Hampshire boys basketball coach Bob Barnett just figured Whip-Purs' senior Tyler Crater needed a breather.
Not for long, though.
With the outcome of Wednesday night's Class 3A regional semifinal against host Burlington Central pretty much decided, the only drama that remained midway through the fourth quarter was whether or not Crater would get his 1,000th career point or have to wait until Friday's championship game.
The 6-foot-3 Whips' forward stood at 998 career points and had missed three straight shots at 1,000 when Barnett decided to pull Crater out of the game with 3:09 to play. But after a Hampshire timeout, Barnett put Crater back in the game and on the ensuing inbounds play, Crater broke free underneath and made the layup to give him 13 points for the game and an even 1,000 for his three-year varsity career.
More important to the Whip-Purs, though, was a 49-31 win over the Rockets, Hampshire's first regional win in three years.
While Crater knew he was closing in on 1,000 he didn't realize his missed shots were all for the milestone.
"Shane (Hernandez) gave me a nice pass on the possession before that and I missed an easy shot," said Crater. "We were running down the court and he said 'Hey I wanted to give you that assist.' But it's more important to win. I've never won a postseason game and to come on this floor and beat this team I've been playing against since I was a little kid means a lot."
The top-seeded Whip-Purs (23-5) will go for their first regional title since 2005 at 7:30 p.m. Friday against No. 2 seed Sycamore, a 66-46 winner over Rochelle in Wednesday's second semifinal. Friday's winner advances to the Freeport sectional next week to play the IMSA regional winner.
"He was just trying a bit too hard," said Barnett of Crater. "We wanted to run some clock. But it's a great accomplishment."
Crater became just the third Hampshire boys player in program history to score 1,000 career points, following David Ross and Tyler Watzlawick.
Early on, though, it looked like Hampshire might be served yet another opening-round disappointment. The fourth-seeded Rockets (14-14) jumped out to an 11-0 lead as Hampshire missed its first 10 shots. But the Whips finally got on the board when sophomore Matt Bridges cut through the lane for a layup, starting an 8-0 run to get his team back in the game.
Hampshire took its first lead, 16-14, with 2:42 left in the half when Ryan Cork's alley-oop pass resulted in a thunderous dunk from Crater to spark the Hampshire crowd. But Central scored the final 4 points of the half to keep an 18-16 lead at the break.
The second half was simply all Hampshire.
"We were trying to figure out their 1-3-1 and we missed some shots," said Barnett, who coached despite breaking two ribs in a fall at home on Saturday, that on the heels of his heart attack episode at the start of the season. "We made some adjustments and started running high ball screens and flashing a guard to the middle. Give (his team) credit, they ran it to a tee."
It didn't take long for Hampshire to establish its dominance in the third quarter. Senior Brendan Waterworth tied the game just over a minute into the period, then Cork nailed a 3-pointer from the left side with 6:11 left to give the Whip-Purs the lead for good. By the time the third quarter was over, Hampshire had outscored BC 19-2 and taken a 35-20 lead.
"Even before the game we knew (Central) would come out amped up at their place," said Barnett. "We weathered the storm. We came here for a purpose -- to play Friday night. Our goal Friday will be to play next week."
"We just had to keep our composure," Crater said. "(Central) came out with a lot of intensity but we've got an experienced group."
Seniors Shane Hernandez and Michael Dumoulin added 10 points each for Hampshire, which shot 23-for-55, including 16-for-31 in the second half. The Whips also won the rebound battle 38-30, grabbing 16 offensive boards. Dumoulin had 10 rebounds, 7 offensive, and Hernandez (3 blocks, 4 assists) pulled down 7 boards.
Senior Moter Deng led the Rockets with 9 points and 4 blocks, while junior Brett Rau added 8 points. Central was just 13-for-45 shooting.
"They're a good basketball team and their game plan worked," said BC coach Brett Porto of Hampshire. "It comes down to making shots and we struggled with that this year. They were able to push us out of our spots and they've got a lot of strong guys who crashed (the boards) hard."
Despite the loss, Porto saw positives in the season, one that started 0-7 but then turned into a conference championship and a .500 finish.
"I'm pleased with how this group turned things around," Porto said. "Moter Deng and Bryce Warner stepped up as seniors and we got great contributions starting in January from the junior class to turn the season around. We were sitting at 6-13 and took a stand, then we won eight in a row to win the conference and for that I'll always be grateful to the senior class. You hope your underclassmen can learn from this and apply it to next year."