When East Aurora dared any player not named Arie Williams to seal the game from the free-throw line, Elgin junior guard Ryan Sitter accepted the challenge and helped complete a 58-55 Upstate Eight Conference crossover victory in Aurora Thursday.
Elgin (13-13) survived four lead changes in the final three minutes, taking a 1-point lead on Kiko Mari's layup with 1:25 left, assisted by Williams.
Needing to foul, East Aurora (4-22) refused to foul Williams, which made sense since the UEC River MVP was 5 of 7 from the free-throw line while the rest of his team had made only 3 of 14 free throws to that point.
Sure enough, East Aurora denied the ball to Williams on an inbounds play, choosing to instead foul Moses Gibson. The senior missed the front end of the bonus with 26.4 seconds remaining, but sprawled on the floor to retrieve his own rebound.
Following an Elgin timeout, East Aurora waited until Williams gave the ball up with 16.4 seconds left and immediately fouled Sitter. Elgin's quarterback and right-handed pitcher stepped to the line and swished both shots.
"I'm not going to lie and tell you I was confident," said Ryan Sitter, who finished with 8 points. "I was really, really nervous there. I knew we'd been missing free throws all game and I didn't want to be another kid who just missed free throws and have just another reason to run in practice.
"They did a good job of denying Arie and I knew I had to step up. Someone needed to hit a shot other than Arie."
East Aurora missed a 3-point attempt at the other end and Elgin ran out the clock after 2 missed free throws with .4 seconds left.
Williams led all scorers with 27 points in his final regular-season game, including a 4-of-6 shooting performance from 3-point range. He also finished with 3 steals and 4 assists, including assists on back-to-back baskets from Mari that restored Elgin's lead in the frenetic final minutes.
"It shows our poise," Williams said. "I feel like in the beginning of the year we probably would've let up and given into the momentum of the crowd. When everything was going bad, we picked it up and stayed poised."
Elgin took a 9-point lead late in the third quarter on a Williams 3-pointer, but East Aurora rallied late behind 3 straight buckets from junior Jonathan Villezcas and a pair of 3-pointers from senior guard Tyree Willis.
"We hung in there because they did not shoot free throws," East Aurora coach Wendell Jeffries said. "They missed a lot of shots, and we made a ton of mistakes and stayed in the game."
Despite the victory, it was a disappointing way to end the regular season for Elgin.
"We could've put them away early, but 3 of 12 from the free-throw line the 1st half and 6 missed layups? I mean, you're not going to win a regional doing that. And that's our goal right now -- not to beat East Aurora in a crossover game -- to win a regional.