You couldn't ask for a better momentum starter than Danny Spinuzza's third-quarter off-the-backboard pass to Downers Grove South teammate Robert Mara for a dunk.
And you also couldn't ask for a more fierce rally than what Willowbrook's boys basketball team accomplished at the start of the fourth quarter.
By the end of a crazy second half, Downers South managed to restore enough order to claim Friday's 47-39 West Suburban Gold win over the visiting Warriors.
"We got some energy from the alley-oop, and we were doing great," Mara said. "Then it seemed like they had the energy. Some of the guys might have been nervous, but I wasn't worried. As long as we stayed calm I felt like we had it under control."
Both teams struggled mightily on offense through a sluggish first half. Eight lead changes and five ties culminated in Spinuzza's nifty backboard pass to Mara for the two-handed jam.
Sparked by the play, the Mustangs (12-9, 7-3) took off on a 17-4 run to seize a 35-21 lead after three quarters. Downers South held Willowbrook (9-13, 2-7) scoreless for more than five minutes at one point.
Seemingly done for the night, especially after leading scorer Josh Joiner went down with an ankle injury in the game's opening minute, Willowbrook exploded in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors used a 14-2 run in less than three minutes -- nearly matching their entire first-half output -- to narrow the deficit to 37-35 on 2 free throws by Adam Hill. Willowbrook got the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead but Tiger Greene was whistled for charging while driving to the basket.
Despite a rough couple of minutes, Willowbrook was still within 42-39 after Yashua Trent's putback with 2:07 left. Downers South, however, forced a key turnover and made 5 of 6 free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the win.
"Tiger got that charge, and it changed the momentum right there," said Willowbrook coach Chris Perkins. "The guys did a nice job coming together and stepping up, but it was tough for us. There aren't many opportunities you get to beat Downers at Downers."
Trent led Willowbrook with 16 points while Kyle Rushing added 8 points and 12 rebounds. Nick Kilianek also helped on the boards with 11 rebounds.
Mara scored all 12 of his team-high points in the second half including 8-of-10 free-throw shooting. The 6-foot-8 senior also grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked 9 shots.
"They made us play a little faster than we would have liked, and they played very well without their best player," said Downers South coach Jay Baum. "But we'll take it. We pulled it out."
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