To allow Rockford Lutheran's talented, veteran lineup to run the floor freely is to court disaster, so Burlington Central boys basketball coach Brett Porto had another plan.
His Rockets burned clock, patiently waiting 45 seconds or more per possession in the first half before seeking a high-percentage shot. The strategy limited Rockford Lutheran's offensive opportunities and kept Central in the game throughout, however, the Crusaders simply had too many weapons to guard and escaped with a 55-48 victory at the Sycamore Thanksgiving Tournament.
Focused Burlington Central (2-1) took a 34-33 lead to the fourth quarter, courtesy of a double-clutched hanger by senior guard Reed Hunnicutt that beat the third-quarter buzzer. They extended the lead to 36-33 on an inside bucket by Sean Fitzgerald, set up by a smart assist in the lane from senior guard Brett Rau.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, Rockford Lutheran center Ryan Dolan got hot. After Central missed the front end of the bonus, Dolan, a 6-foot-7 junior, drained a 3-pointer from the left corner to tie the game 36-36.
The Rockets missed the front end of the bonus once more, and again Dolan made them pay with a 3-pointer, this time from the opposite corner. A missed Central shot then led to another 3-point attempt. It was off target, but Dolan was there for the tip-in, capping an 8-0 personal run that put the Crusaders ahead 41-36 with 5:31 to play.
"We were trying to take away (senior guard Thomas) Kopelman because he's a pretty good shooter," Hunnicutt said, "but (Dolan) got pretty hot at the end."
The Rockets opened the game in a triangle-and-two defense with chasers on Kopelman and Dolan, but later switched it to Kopelman and Joe Kellen after Kellen sank 3 first-half 3-pointers.
"We knew he could hit," Porto said of Dolan's long-range ability. "They cause a lot of matchup problems and you just hope that someone is missing at some point. It was just the wrong time for (Dolan) to get hot from both corners. A little mental lapse there, but overall, I really can't complain as for how hard our guys competed on both ends of the court."
The Rockets stayed within a possession when Sean Fitzgerald buried a 3-pointer, but an inside bucket by 6-4 sophomore Michael Rhein and a 3-pointer from senior guard Kendall Lawson, playing his first game since football ended, gave the Crusaders a 46-39 advantage with 3:45 remaining.
The Rockets drew within 52-48 on a putback by Ozburn, but Kopelman sank 2 free throws with 29 seconds left to make it a 6-point game. In fact, in the fourth quarter the Crusaders sank 9 of 10 free-throw attempts and 3 of 3 tries from 3-point range. They made 8 of 18 shots from 3-point range overall.
"There are no moral victories, but I'm very pleased with how we executed," Porto said. "A couple of defensive lapses late, but part of it is they have so many weapons all over the court. It did make it tough on you at times.
Offensively, if we hit a couple of shots at certain points, it's even closer than it was. We put ourselves in a spot to succeed and we were close."
Burlington Central will play Sycamore (2-1) for third place today at 6 p.m. Sycamore lost to Rockford Jefferson, 64-62.
Hunnicutt led the Rockets with 17 points and 2 steals and Ozburn finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Kellen led the Crusaders with 18 points of 5-of-9 shooting, followed by Kopelman (12), Lawson (10) and Dolan (8). Rockford Lutheran will play Rockford Jefferson for the title at 7:30 p.m.