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The Elgin boys basketball team is making a habit of cutting giants down to size.
Last December, the Maroons upset nationally ranked favorite La Lumiere (Ind.) in the title game of their annual holiday tournament.
Elgin pulled off the improbable again Friday night: a 60-58 tournament semifinal upset over once-beaten Las Vegas Centennial, which is led by Stanford-bound twins Marcus and Malcolm Allen.
"The last several years we've had a history of rising to the occasion, whether it's the postseason or a big conference game," Elgin coach Mike Sitter said. "The bigger the game, the better we play."
The victory sets up an equally improbable tournament championship game between Elgin (9-6) and crosstown rival Larkin (13-2) tonight at 8:15 p.m. Larkin defeated Batavia 57-43 in Friday's first semifinal. The Royals defeated Elgin 76-73 in double overtime on Dec. 12.
"No one expected us to win 3 games in this tournament," said point guard Arie Williams, who led the Maroons with 24 points, "so we have to do the unexpected again — win a fourth one and win the championship."
Centennial (10-2) was stocked with the Allen twins and heady senior guard Austin Turley, whereas Elgin took the floor with the red-hot Williams — who hit game-winning shots in each of Elgin's previous 2 tournament victories — along with a cast of supporting players who rarely if ever saw the floor last season.
Yet, when it was all over, it was supporting players like Elgin senior forward Eric Sedlack and junior guard Isaiah Butler who were being praised by their teammates and coaches. Butler scored 19 points, Sedlack had 13 points and 6 rebounds and both took the pressure off Williams down the stretch by hitting the big shots that helped Elgin finish the game on a 6-0 run.
Centennial (10-2) led 58-54 with 4:21 to play after Turley made a steal under his own basket and notched an easy layup. However, Butler countered with a baseline finger roll to trim the deficit to 2 points.
Following a Centennial missed shot, Butler grabbed the rebound, steamed upcourt and drove the lane for a tough bucket, knotting the score at 58-58 with 2:30 to play.
"I was missing my shots early in the game, so I just wanted to shot fake and drive to the hole," Butler said.
Elgin regained possession after 2 missed free throws by Marcus Allen with 2:04 left. The Maroons held the ball for a minute until a quality shot arose. That shot finally came when Sedlack received the ball on a flash cut to the free throw line. The 6-foot-5 redhead faked, then calmly sank a jump shot with 1:09 remaining to give Elgin its first lead since the first quarter.
"I just turned to pivot and shot fake," Sedlack said. "He didn't jump, so I just took the shot."
"That's big time for him," Williams said. "I've felt he's always been there to hit that shot, but he hasn't had the opportunity. This was his night."
Centennial threw the ball out of bounds on its ensuing possession, so the Maroons burned more clock. Sedlack was fouled off the ball with 14.5 seconds left, but he missed the front end of the bonus, leaving the Bulldogs a chance to tie or win it with a 3-pointer.
However, Elgin's defense, which did not allow a point in the game's final 4:20, held once more. Playing a triangle-and-2 defense on the Allen twins, as instructed by Elgin assistant coach Jeff Howard, who Sitter calls Elgin's "defensive coordinator,"the Bulldogs struggled to find an open look with time running out.
Centennial attempted to run a ball screen at the top of the circle, but junior guard Ryan Sitter "showed properly," his coach said, forcing Malcolm Allen to take a 17-foot fadeaway with 4 seconds left when defender Malik Parham-Dunner didn't go for the shot fake.
The attempt caromed off the rim and into the corner as the final buzzer sounded, setting off an excited but controlled celebration by the Maroons.
"Man, what is about this gym for these guys, you know?" Centennial coach Todd Allen said of the upset and his second loss to his alma mater in three seasons. "We executed our gameplan pretty well. Our job was to stop Arie and we did that for the most part. But in the second half they had guys step up. Sedlack stepped up for them and (Butler) stepped up for them and made some big shots. Give credit to them; they beat us. We'll learn from it."
Marcus Allen (23 points) and Malcolm had (18 points) combined for 7 dunks in the game, but the less-flashy Maroons countered by winning the rebounding battle 29-18. Elgin held the Bulldogs to 43-percent shooting (22 of 51) while sinking 51 percent of their own shots (24 of 47).