The War on the Shore began as an aerial battle, but it ended on a sneak attack as host Loyola edged St.Viator 60-59 Saturday in Wilmette.
Both teams took turn firing bombs from the outside as the teams combined for 19 three-pointers. But it was a layup that decided the game between two of the top 10 teams in Class 4A.
With St. Viator up by 1 in the final minute, Loyola was looking for its 10th bomb to put the Ramblers ahead. But when the Lions' defense took the outside shot away, the Ramblers' Kevin Kucera drove to the basket off a backdoor screen and converted a layup with 3.6 seconds left.
St. Viator's Ore Arogundade, who had converted key shots the past two weeks, attempted a 40-foot shoot at the buzzer, but his shot bounced off the backboard.
Despite the loss, St.Viator coach Mike Howland was pleased with his team's effort.
"It was a battle both sides anticipated," Howland said. "We just came up one possession short.
"I am more proud of our guys tonight in a loss than I was in our wins over Benet and Hinsdale. That is the hardest we played all year."
The Lions showed that grit down the stretch when they forced Loyola to take three timeouts in the final 50 seconds. Each time the Ramblers were looking to go Jack Morrissey, who had converted six 3-pointers. But Lions defensive specialist Rickie Muench kept Morrissey from the ball.
"We face-guarded him in the end," Muench said. "He is tough to guard, but I didn't want him to get the ball."
St. Viator (16-4) fell behind in the third quarter when Roosevelt Smart left the court with a twisted his ankle. With Smart on the bench, Loyola (18-2) ran off 10 unanswered points to lead 41-33 with 3:36 left in the third quarter.
But this is a Lion team that knows how to rally, as demonstrated by their two comeback victories in recent weeks.
Trailing 56-49 with 5:50 to play, Pat McNamara led the charge back as the Lions ran off 10 unanswered points to lead 59-56 on McNamara's fourth 3 -pointer with2:44 to play.
"We needed someone to step up and make big shots and it was me tonight," said McNamara, who scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. "We played hard all night. This is the hardest we played all season. We just came up a little short."
St. Viator had a chance to increase its lead, but the Lions missed a pair of free throws and a key shot down the stretch.
"This was sectional final atmosphere," Howland said. "Against a team that I think will be a one-seed in their sectional. You have to learn from it -- and we will."
The teams traded jabs from outside the arc throughout the first half where they combined for 9 in the first half.
St. Viator took the lead after scoring the final 5 points of the first quarter, ending on a trey by Mark Falotico to lead 17-12.
Loyola turned up its defense, forcing the Lions to turn the ball over 4 times in the first four minutes of the second quarter as the Ramblers ran off 6 unanswered points to lead 18-17. But after 4 lead changes, the Lions took the lead at the break as Ore Arogundade drained a 3 just before the buzzer to put Viator up 28-27.
"It was a tough loss tonight," said Arogundade, who finished with 13 points. "I was hoping for that miracle shot again at the end, but it just wasn't there."
Smart, who retuned to play late in the third quarter, finished with 10 points while Falotico added 8 points.
Morrissey led Loyola with 21 points and was 6-for-11 from outside the arc. James Clarke had 14 points for the Ramblers while Kucera had 13 points.