St. Viator smartly took care of Palatine 59-44 on Wednesday night in the Class 4A regional semifinals at Rolling Meadows.
The No.5-seeded Lions (22-5) meet No. 4 Zion-Benton at 7 p.m. Friday for the regional title.
St. Viator's Roosevelt Smart, who transferred from Palatine last summer, ignited a first-quarter rally that put the Lions up for good.
For Smart, who was greeted with a chorus of Bronx cheers each time he touched the ball by the Palatine student section, it was tough playing against his former teammates.
"It was all right out there," said Smart, who finished with 12 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists.
"It was difficult at the beginning. But I had a putback in the first quarter and that going me going."
It seemed to get all the Lions going.
They had trailed No. 12 Palatine 11-8 at the time.
"I think there were some nervous jitters in the first game out of the gates," St. Viator coach Mark Howland said. "We just never really got good flow offensively or defensively."
Smart made an acrobatic rebound of a missed shot to convert a basket.
That started a 13-0 run for the Lions with Smart scoring 6 of those points.
St. Viator built a 21-11 advantage and never trailed from there.
A spirited Palatine team (13-16) played hard throughout the game.
Led by the feisty play of senior Nolan Gavin (14 points) and Justin Chaney (15 points), Palatine kept St. Viator in its sights for most of the game.
"This time of year, whenever your last game is, you want to make sure you play it the right way," said Palatine coach Eric Millstone. "You leave it on the floor. Gavin is a real unassuming kid but he has a fire. And it came out tonight."
Palatine got it to 26-22 at the half and 29-27 with 7:02 left in the third quarter on a 3-point play by Matt Ulrich (8 points).
Pat McNamara nailed a 3-pointer and then a short jumper as the Lions went on a 10-4 run to open up some breathing space with a 42-32 lead at the end of three quarters.
"It was an ugly game at times," said McNamara, who finished with 13 points with three 3-pointers. "We got caught up in the crowd a little bit and that was dumb on our part. We have to play better on Friday and not let those things distract us."
The Lions were also able to counter with 6-foot-6 center Tom Martin, who finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds, nine of which came on the offensive end.
"Against a zone, I am usually sitting on the back line," Martin said. "They kept feeding the ball and opening lanes. I have been working really hard to improve my rebounding. I saw those opportunities and I took them."
St. Viator was able to pull away at the end with Ore Arogunade, who had 15 points and 7 rebounds leading the way.
"I think we will be better on Friday," Arogundade said. "I just had to be smart and not feed into the things that they were trying to throw into me."
Mark Falotico chipped in 5 points for the Lions while Chris Macahon had 5 points for Palatine.
"We got the win and we get to play on Friday," Howland said. "It is different in the playoffs. Anybody can beat anybody this time of the year. We will need a better effort on Friday night and I think we will get it."