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Conant is focused on one thing going into Thursday's Class 4A regional semifinal at Hoffman Estates against Riverside-Brookfield: playing better than it did in Wednesday's 73-39 quarterfinal win over the host Hawks.
In a game that got a little sloppy (36 total turnovers), a little scrappy (a scuffle and an ejection) and a little messy (47 fouls, 2 technicals and a rare double-foul), the Cougars managed to keep their focus and their shooting eye to carry them to the victory, their third over the Hawks this season.
"I was really happy with the way our kids kept their composure," said Conant coach Tom McCormack, whose team faces a rematch of a game they won against R-B at the York Christmas Tournament.
Conant (15-12) used a pair of 9-0 runs -- one to open the game and another after Hoffman's first basket -- to open an 18-3 lead that never went under double-digits the rest of the way. Point guard Joey Ranallo sparked the runs with a pair of steals and 3-pointer, giving him a hand in all of the first 9 points. Danny Sotos (11 points) helped out with a first-quarter 3 and a layin off a nice play after Ranallo dove to save a ball.
The Cougars defense was keying everything, forcing 21 turnovers, many early in forging the lead. Kevin Schimel, Robert Hudson (13 points) and Mark Monti added first-half 3-pointers and junior forward D'Angelo McBride brought the Conant faithful to their feet with a breakaway slam as Conant built a 41-19 halftime lead and cruised from there.
High-scorer Ranallo (15 points) agreed with his coach about the importance of keeping cool throughout all that.
"It was key," said the senior point guard, who was already looking ahead to Riverside-Brookfield. "They're a solid team. We need to keep up the intensity and hope we get the 'W.'"
The Cougars faced a lot of intensity from rival Hoffman Estates (3-21), but the Hawks couldn't knock down a shot. Between that and the turnovers, the game got out of hand quickly for the Hawks, who are looking to next year already after playing an extremely young lineup most of the game.
"We struggled to shoot all year," said Hoffman Estates coach Luke Yanule of his team's Achilles' heel after it rebounded evenly with the taller Cougars. "They (Conant) really shot the ball well early, and we didn't."
Freshman point guard Jorden Thornton paced the Hawks with 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, and impressed with his quickness, but got little support as the Hawks shot just 8-of-32 from the floor. Senior forward Jordan Robinson chipped in with 10 points.
But the Cougars, principally defensive blue-chipper McBride, shut down the Hawks' Olu Adelaja, who, along with scoring threat Joe Biko, were in foul trouble from the get-go. Connor Schwarz knocked down a couple of NBA-length 3-pointers.
"Conant's a real good team," said Yanule. "I tip my cap to them."