Conant put together its best offensive performance at the right time Thursday night in Hoffman Estates.
The Cougars, who were seeded 12th, had five different players score in double figures. They held off a furious charge by fifth-seeded Riverside-Brookfield to oust the Bulldogs 69-63 in the Class 4A regional semifinals.
Conant (16-13) advances to the final Friday night against Glenbard East.
"I can't remember that last time we had five guys in double figures," said Conant coach Tom McCormack, who is in his 28th year of leading the Cougars. "We have been started to head in that direction offensively. And we were able to put it together tonight."
Danny Sotos and Robert Hudson both had 15 points to lead the Cougars. Joey Ranallo had 13 points, including 8 in the fourth quarter, while Kevin Schimel had 11 points and D'Angelo McBride chipped in with 10.
"It was the excitement of the playoffs," said Hudson, who had 7 points in the fourth quarter. "Collectively everyone was playing their best and we made some big shots."
The 132 points by both teams was a far cry from heir first meeting earlier this year, when the teams combined for just 62 points in regulation in a game that Conant eventually won in overtime 44-38.
Riverside-Brookfield (21-7) came out trying to get Conant into more of an uptempo game. But the strategy ended up backfiring on the Bulldogs, who had most of their starters in foul trouble and had five players finish the game with 4 fouls each.
"Both teams were able to score in the half-court game," McCormack said. "But not in a full-court game. We didn't want to get into a transition game with them."
True to that, the teams were tied at 29 early in the third quarter. Conant then turned up the defensive pressure, forcing RB to miss 6 shots and turn the ball over 3 times. Meanwhile, the Cougars ran off 9 unanswered points to build a 38-29 lead with 3:39 left on a steal and basket by Schimel.
Conant appeared to be in command early in the fourth quarter when it led 46-37. R-B then put together its best offensive surge of the game, running off 11 unanswered points to surge ahead 48-46 with 5:38 to play.
With the game tied at 51 with 4:17 to play, it was Conant's chance to turn on its offensive prowess. Four different players scored as the Cougars ran off 10 consecutive points to lead 61-51 with 2:10 to play and appeared to be well on their way to a victory.
The Cougars then uncharacteristically turned the ball over four times and converted just 2 of 4 free throws as Riverside-Brookfield closed to 63-61 with 9.9 seconds to play. Just under a second later, Ranallo calmly sank 2 free throws and Hudson then converted another pair with 3.4 seconds left to put the game away.
"I was trying to think about absolutely nothing out there at the end," Ranallo said. "And it worked. We knew going into this game that Riverside-Brookfield would give us a real good game. They were hungry to beat us. We withstood everything, especially at the end."