With the game hanging in the balance, teams rely on senior leadership to step up and help preserve victories.
That is exactly what the Conant boys' basketball team received Friday night. Cougar seniors Joe Ranallo and Kevin Copher both made plays in the final two minutes to give Conant (6-3, 2-1) a 54-53 win over Mid-Suburban West foe Hoffman Estates inside William N. Perry Gymnasium.
Ranallo (12 points) knocked down a trey from the left wing with 1:41 to play to break a 49-all tie. A minute later, he swiped the ball from the Hawks with his team clinging to a 52-51 lead. Moments later Copher (9 points) stepped to the foul line and calmly sank both free throws to give the Cougars a 54-51 lead with 28.3 ticks left on the clock.
The Eagles still had one final chance to force overtime. After a missed 3 caromed off a Conant player, Hoffman Estates (4-5, 0-3) received the ball under its own basket with 4.5 seconds left and out of time outs.
A little confusion set in with the young Hawks as the inbound pass went in to Jordan Robinson under the bucket for an uncontested layup for the final points as the clock ran out.
"We were out of timeouts, the five-second call was nearing and our kids just didn't know what to so we got the ball inbounds and took the 2," Hoffman Estates coach Luke Yanule said of the final play. "That's the first thing we talked about (after the game), was how would you do it again. How are we going to learn from it, and if it ever comes down to that situation again we have a plan."
The Cougars seemed to be in control of the game early in the fourth quarter as they built their largest lead at 46-35 with 6:35 to play. The Hawks then turned up the defensive pressure and went on a 14-3 spurt over the next 4:44 to draw even. Robinson capped the run with an offensive putback and a driving layup with 1:51 to play. The senior scored half of his team's 14 points during the run.
"His work ethic, his leadership, just him as a person, his character it all came out tonight in this game," Yanule said of Robinson. "You see him on the offensive glass, you see him play defense, he just had a great game."
Robinson scored 15 of his game-high 23 points in the second half.
The Cougars were able to hold on for the win despite being outshot at the free throw line 18-6. Hoffman Estates knocked down 13 of its 18 attempts, while Conant converted 4 of its 6.
"Moving forward, that is something we need to do a better job of," McCormack said of his team not getting to the line. "I would like to see us get the ball inside more to create more chances at the line."
Ryan Blaha tied Ranallo for team honors in points with 12 for the Cougars.
Trevor Pye joined Robinson in double digits for Hoffman Estates with 14 points.
Both coaches were pleased with the effort, but neither were extremely happy with the final.
"We are extremely proud of our teams' collective heart and effort," Yanule said. "We are not happy with the loss but coming here, taking Conant down to the wire on their floor, we can build on this."
Said McCormack, "We are not satisfied but we are happy to get out of here with the win. We can use this as a learning experience and get onto the next game."