These Glenbard East Rams, they have memories like elephants.
Refusing to forget a one-point loss to Glenbard West the day before Thanksgiving at the District 87 boys basketball tournament, the Rams defeated the Hilltoppers 72-55 Thursday night in a Class 4A Hoffman Estates regional semifinal.
"We were really eager to come out and show them that that shouldn't have happened, that we should have won that whole tournament," Rams senior Mike Kjeldsen said of the Rams' first loss of the season. "We came out here tonight and proved it to them."
"That was definitely in our head, and we felt like we were in total control of that one too and let it slip away," Rams coach Scott Miller said. "So get a little revenge on that one and obviously wanted to advance tonight."
The Hilltoppers (14-13), meanwhile, tried to put that November triumph out of their minds.
"For one thing that was a lifetime ago. Thanksgiving is a long time ago," Glenbard West coach Tim Hoder said. "That's just the game. When we play well we're capable of beating some good teams. We caught them in a three-nights-in-a-row night around Thanksgiving, and here they're rested, fresh and a week to get ready."
The fourth-seeded Rams (19-6) looked ready, jumping out to a 21-9 lead on a Kjeldsen 3-pointer at the 4:56 mark of the second quarter.
A Marvin Grant-Clark free throw with 3:10 left in the third gave the Rams a 19-point lead, their biggest of the night, and they looked like they had the game under control. The No. 13 Hilltoppers had other ideas, though, closing the quarter on a 13-2 run to make the score 48-40 heading into the final eight minutes.
"We did have a nice comeback," Hoder said. "We got ourselves back into it. We got some stops, got some baskets in transition, which is one of our strengths. There were just too many possessions where we didn't get stops. We allowed them to set their defense and that wasn't good for us. Our kids kept battling. We just needed to defend a little better to start the game."
"We've been here before," Kjeldsen said, noting the Rams' senior-dominated lineup. "We just had to keep it together, not get excited or too anxious."
The Hilltoppers pulled as close as four points twice, the last on a Jeff Levesque basket with 6:22 to go. Then it was Glenbard East's turn to go on a run, scoring the next 14 points to go ahead 67-49 with 2:28 left, with Levesque and Dikiria Washington fouling out along the way.
"We let the shooters get rolling," Hoder said. "That's a reason they're having the success that they are, is they have a lot of kids that can shoot the ball."
Tahron Harvey led Glenbard East with 22 points on 9-of-9 free-throw shooting plus 6 assists, JaRon Hall added 18 points and Kjeldsen 10.
Levesque and sophomore Keith Hayes led the Hilltoppers with 16 points apiece, and Washington scored 13.
The Rams face 12th-seeded Conant at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Hoffman Estates in the regional final.