Huntley freshman Jack Bessey put his obligation to his team ahead of a free ticket to the Super Bowl, which was fortunate for the Red Raiders in Tuesday's 54-52 win over Barrington.
A 6-foot-1 guard, Bessey was invited two weeks ago to attend Super Bowl XLVIII by his uncle and godfather, Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider.
Faced with the prospect of missing league-leading Huntley's conference game against Cary-Grove on Saturday night, he opted to stay in the Chicago suburbs and play basketball, only to see his game postponed due to snow.
However, traveling to New Jersey would have made it virtually impossible for Bessey to return in time for Monday's practice -- a must for any player expecting to play in the following day's game for Huntley coach Marty Manning -- so he was ready and available for Tuesday's non conference game against -- who else? -- the Broncos.
All Bessey did was put Huntley's furious fourth-quarter comeback over the top to help his team improve to 14-4. He sank a 3-pointer that drew the Red Raiders within 49-45 with 3:12 to play, and he stole the ball and fed Connor Boesch for a layup that pulled his team within 50-47 with 2:48 to play.
Bessey's biggest play came with 1:38 left, when he stole a pass on the perimeter and converted a breakaway layup that gave his team a 51-50 advantage, its first lead since early in the third quarter.
"He made a couple of huge plays on the defensive end that got him a layup and a 3-pointer as well," said Manning. "He's a great competitor. That's why I didn't take him out in the second half."
Manning gave Bessey his blessing to miss the two games and attend the Super Bowl with his parents, Todd and Chris, but the freshman decided to stay put after receiving final advice from Schneider.
Said Bessey: "I called my uncle and he said, 'You need to stay. If I were in high school and I was in the same situation, I'd stay. You're a freshman on varsity and that's what your goal is in life.' So that's why I stayed."
Huntley missed 3 of 4 free throws in the final 32 seconds to give Barrington (9-13) hope. Trailing 54-52, the Broncos inbounded with 17 seconds left. The ball was passed into sophomore Rapolas Ivanauskas in the low post, and he sent it back out to Barrington's leading 3-point shooter, Austin Madrzyk. However, his shot -- contested by a hard-charging Bessey -- fell short and time ran out as the teams scrambled for the loose ball.
"We had a couple of opportunities elsewhere on the play, we thought, but Austin is our leading 3-point shooter," Barrington coach Bryan Tucker said ."We tried to go inside and take a look. We thought we had a guy cutting for a layup, but the ball went out to our best 3-point shooter. The ball didn't go in."
Huntley led 23-22 at halftime, but the Broncos outscored them 16-3 in the third quarter, led by 7 of junior Chris Lester's 12 points. Huntley had open looks in the third quarter, but the Red Raiders made just 1 of 12 field-goal attempts.
Those same shots fell as the fourth quarter opened. Senior Blake Jacobs sank a 3-pointer and a long 2-pointer to ignite an 11-0 run that also included 3-pointers from Zach Gorney (8 points) and Kyle Slonka.
"Once we started getting double-teamed inside, they kicked it out and I made some big shots, so did Zach and Kyle and Jack," Jacobs said. "We find a way to win."
Barrington responded with a 6-0 run, but Huntley reeled the Broncos in late, thanks to Bessey. The Red Raiders made 9 of their 12 fourth-quarter field-goal attempts.
"I'm really proud of our kids' effort," Tucker said. "They played their hearts out. (Huntley) is a talented team and their record is the way it is because they make shots when they need to."
Amanze Egekeze scored 11 of his team-high 16 points in the first half and Jacobs added 12 points for Huntley.
Junior Zach Bart led Barrington with 15 points and 6 rebounds and Ivanauskas finished with 13 points and 6 rebounds.