Right Plazak, right time.
The final shot in a tied boys basketball game between Cary-Grove and Crystal Lake South wasn't originally drawn up for senior Steve Plazak, but when the forward popped open on the perimeter with time running out, the shot was his to take.
Plazak took a feed from Cary-Grove guard Matt Motzel and swished a 15-footer just inside the 3-point arc with 2.5 seconds left, and sophomore Jason Gregoire intercepted the ensuing CL South inbounds pass and ran out the clock to complete the Trojans' 45-43 comeback victory in a Fox Valley Conference Valley Division thriller at Gator Alley Friday.
"It's one of those things you've dreamed about, that last shot," Plazak said through a broad smile. "I've thought about this so long. It was good to finally hit it."
Cary-Grove (9-7, 1-2) called timeout with possession with 1:12 left to set up the final attack. The first option was to clear out and let Gregoire go to work. But Gregoire later said he wasn't confident he could get a good shot off against CL South defender Austin Rogers.
The next option was a double screen, but an open shot didn't materialize. With the decibel level in the gym growing louder as time ticked down under 10 seconds, Gregoire passed the ball out to Motzel. Covered, he spotted Plazak coming out from the lane.
"When things break down you just have to play basketball and you have to make the play," Cary-Grove coach Ralph Schuetzle said. "Plazak got a nice 15-footer and that's kind of his range. It's tailor made for him. He makes that shot a lot in practice.
"When the game's on the line you want to step up and win it. Shoot, that's your chance. We were able to do that and we kind of stole one here tonight."
It was more like grand theft considering Cary-Grove's first-half struggles. CL South (5-9, 0-2) held the Trojans, a team that battled the flu all week and was missing two injured regulars, to 4 of 26 shooting in the first two quarters.
The Gators led 20-11 at halftime but it was a different Cary-Grove team in the third quarter. The Trojans used the press to ignite their offense and find their rhythm. The effects were immediate. They opened the second half on a 14-4 run, highlighted by 6-foot-3 junior Andrew Splitt's second 3-pointer of the spree, which staked Cary-Grove to a 25-24 lead.
"I thought we left our game plan a little bit, started chasing a little bit too much, got out of our scheme and they made us pay," CL South coach Matt LePage said. "You have to give them credit because they didn't miss an open shot. We were trying to take their threes away because they shoot a lot of threes. They still got them up and that bothers me because we were playing that."
The Gators held a 29-27 advantage heading to the final period, thanks to a 3-pointer by Rogers that beat the third-quarter buzzer. But Cary-Grove opened the fourth quarter on a 10-2 run to grab a 6-point cushion, powered by a 3-pointer from junior Tyler Szydlo (5 points), a conventional three-point play by Gregoire (7 points), a jumper from Splitt (8 points) and a transition layup off a CL South turnover by Plazak, who led all scorers with 14 points.
The Trojans made 13 of their 23 second-half shot attempts.
"In the first half we really weren't getting inside the lane or hitting open shots," Gregoire said. "Second half, totally different story. We were getting inside, setting good screens, penetrating and kicking and knocking down our open shots, which is what our goal is."
Trailing 43-36, the Gators scored 7 straight points to tie the game. Senior Alex Bartusch sank a 3-pointer and senior guard Nick Geske converted a floater in the lane into a three-point play. Senior center Max Meitzler tied the contest by splitting 2 free throws with 1:38 left.
However, the Gators were limited to 8 second-half baskets and committed 7 of their 11 turnovers after halftime.
"It seems to be second-half energy for whatever reason," LePage said. "That's something we have to work on and the only way to work on it is getting back in those moments and making the corrections. We'll keep working. I can promise you that."