Suburban Christian Gold-leading IC Catholic Prep edged second-place St. Edward 69-63 in Elgin Friday because the Knights made more shots with the game in the balance.
St. Edward led 49-48 entering the fourth quarter of a competitive contest that featured seven ties and six lead changes, but the Knights sank 6 of 8 field goals and 9 of 12 free throws in the final period, whereas the short-handed Green Wave missed 10 of 15 fourth-quarter field-goal attempts.
"I just thought at the end of the game, they made their free throws and made their shots and we didn't," St. Edward coach P.J. White said, whose team on Nov. 30 defeated ICCP 60-57. "And we had good shots, too."
IC (14-3, 6-0) led 63-58 until John Butzow connected on a 3-pointer that drew the Green Wave within 2 points with 48 seconds left. Butzow then tied up ICCP sophomore Troy Burrows on the ensuing inbounds play with the possession arrow favoring St. Edward (15-3, 3-2).
The Wave created a good look at the basket when center Nick Duffy passed to senior Ryan Matthews along the baseline. His shot rimmed out, and senior Michael Butzow grabbed the offensive rebound, though he couldn't get much on an off-balance putback attempt from a tough angle.
IC sophomore Rhaushaun Epting grabbed the rebound, his ninth, was fouled and sank both free throws. In fact, Epting -- a 60-percent free-throw shooter this season -- made 6 of 7 fourth-quarter free-throw attempts and 16 of 18 overall. The 6-foot-3 forward also shot 8 of 16 from the field and finished with a game-best 33 points.
"His free-throw shooting was what stood out most to me, especially down the stretch and in the clutch," IC Catholic Prep coach T.J. Tyrell said. "He did an outstanding job of knocking them down."
"I've been practicing every day because I know the key to wining games is making your free throws and layups," Epting said. "That's what I really tried to focus on and take my time at the free throw line."
IC outscored St. Edward 21-14 in the fourth quarter. Senior Clark Brinkman, who was in foul trouble all night, scored 6 of those points on 3 field goals, including a putback at the dawn of the final period that put the Knights ahead to stay, 50-49.
'We just had to come out and get a little spark and get our enthusiasm and momentum going," said Brinkman, who scored all 10 of his points in the second half. "We knew we could pull it out."
St. Edward won the rebounding battle 27-22, but the Wave committed 17 turnovers to IC's 11. The Knights prevailed by sinking 12 of 20 second-half field goal attempts, a marked improvement over their 11-of-29, first-half performance.
"This is one of the toughest places to play, I think, in Illinois," Tyrell said of St. Edward's cozy gym. "Everybody was just so tense (in the first half). It was loud and the music was loud. At halftime the guys just kind of settled in and our leaders stepped up. They were compsosed and that's what pulled it out in the end."
Senior guard Anthony Taylor contributed 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and dished 5 assists, and senior guard Ross Fleming added 8 points for ICCP.
Epting's big night overshadowed a 24-point outing by St. Edward junior Joe French, who also posted 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a blocked shot.
St. Edward played without starting guard DaVontae Elam, an all-state running back who was excused for a football recruiting trip. Reserve junior guard Gino Domel also missed the game due to chicken pox.