Montini boys basketball coach Brian Opoka credited IC Catholic Prep's resiliency. Was he ever right.
Claiming 21 offensive rebounds, Montini outboarded the Knights 42-21. ICCP nearly surrendered a 13-point second-quarter lead and in the fourth went 0 for 6 from the foul line.
Still, the numbers that mattered Friday in Elmhurst were ICCP 57, Montini 54.
The Knights (15-6, 7-1) gained a one-game Suburban Christian Conference Gold Division lead. Montini (16-6, 6-2) needs the defending SCC Gold champ to lose against Chicago Christian or St. Edward for a chance at its first conference title since 2001.
"They're having fun right now," said ICCP coach T.J. Tyrrell, watching gleeful IC students swarm his boys, "but we've still got a lot of work to do, a lot of work to do."
ICCP's Demetrius Carr made four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 24 points and freshman Rhashaun Epting scored 12, outdueling Montini's Matt Brachmann with 18 points and 11 rebounds and Simmie Cobbs with 10 points, 16 rebounds and 4 steals. Montini guard Logan Goss added 12 points, ICCP's Clark Brinkman scoring 9.
"Before we came out we said, 'Together,'" Carr said. "I didn't want to overpower anyone, but I was feeling it, so I took the shots when I had them."
IC overpowered Montini at the start, up 16-6 after one quarter. The Broncos committed 8 turnovers and when able to shoot made 1 of 13.
Trailing 20-7 after Carr swished a baseline jumper over Cobbs, Opoka took time.
"They didn't need a fire to be lit, they were excited and they just missed some shots," Opoka said. "They just needed to be reminded of how great they actually are. Once they kind of understood that we can do this they came storming back."
Carr lit up the second and third quarters for 17 of his 24 points but Cobbs, Brachmann and Goss, plus rugged Pat Mooney, pulled the Broncos within 28-22 at halftime, 43-36 after three quarters.
It seemed Montini might repeat its rally that beat the Knights 58-55 on Dec. 14. The Broncos answered 2 clutch Epting baskets to make it 55-52 with 2:21 to play.
Out of a timeout Montini trapped Carr across the timeline. The senior whipped a pass to Adam Muellers inside for a 57-52 lead with 1:24 left. After a Montini turnover and a miss, Muellers absorbed an offensive foul that made Cobbs' putback with 2.6 seconds left academic.
"It was just a big game for us and we let it slip," Cobbs said. "It hurts, too."