Although the IC Catholic Prep boys basketball team led by 6 points at halftime of Tuesday’s first Class 2A regional semifinal at Aurora Christian, coach T.J. Tyrrell knew his team was capable of better.
So what did Tyrrell have his players do at intermission? They chilled and went home 74-56 winners.
“We were very tense in the first half. We didn’t handle ourselves the best we could on the court. We listened to some music at halftime to settle everybody down. And we reminded them that this is supposed to be fun and don’t let others dictate what you do,” he said.
The halftime break paid off as the Knights (21-6), the regional’s top seed, enjoyed a dominant 21-point third quarter to take control of the contest and not let go.
Next up for IC Catholic is Friday’s 7 p.m. regional final versus Aurora Christian.
The Knights came out in the first quarter at full speed taking a 14-4 lead by making their first six shots of the game before Westmont coach Craig Etheridge called a timeout with 4:33 remaining to try and cool them off.
The tide started going in Westmont’s favor after the timeout as its shooting went up to 50 percent for the quarter thanks to a 12-3 run that pulled the Sentinels (9-21), the regional’s fifth seed, to 17-16 at quarter’s end.
Also helping was the Knights going 0 of 6 from the field and starting to cough up the ball late, finishing with 6 turnovers after the first eight minutes.
The Sentinels’ momentum kept growing into the second quarter and Montraveous Little’s basket put his team up 22-18 with 5:08 left until intermission.
Senior Anthony Taylor’s three-point play and two free throws from Clark Brinkman put the Knights back up 23-22.
But then came the toughest couple of minutes that IC Catholic faced the whole night.
Greg Pietrzak, who led Westmont with 17 points, made good on a three-point play with 3:59 left until halftime. Then soon after, an IC Catholic player was called for a foul and then a technical for arguing it and Pietrzak and John Kelly made good on the subsequent four free-throw attempts to put Westmont up 29-23, its biggest lead of the game.
The Knights started to make their way back quickly starting with two free throws from Taylor and a fastbreak layup from Jordan Rowell. IC Catholic worked its way back to a late 40-31 advantage.
However, the Sentinels reminded the Knights they were still there as Danny LoGiurato sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer and IC Catholic led by six at halftime.
A layup by Pietrzak put Westmont to within 45-40 with just under five minutes left in the third quarter. But the Knights pulled away with a 16-7 run to finish out the third and lead 61-47 at the end of it. The advantage never got smaller than 12 the rest of the game.
“We didn’t let fouls dictate how we played. And we played like we are capable of playing,” said IC Catholic sophomore Rhashaun Epting, who led the Knights with a game-high 18 points, of his team’s second-half resurgence.
Taylor finished with 15 points and Ross Fleming had 12. Tyrrell praised how his team’s depth came through against Westmont.
“I thought Troy (Burrows), Jordan (Rowell) and Will (Lyles) were great off the bench,” he said.