Wheaton Academy's only lead against Burlington Central was at 45-44. Fortunately for the Warriors, that was the final score.
Christian Smith made a floater with 17 seconds left and Gordon Behr blocked Duncan Ozburn's last-ditch attempt as the Warriors gutted out a victory in the semifinals of the Class 3A Genoa-Kingston regional Wednesday night.
The Warriors (20-8) face Sycamore for the title on Friday.
Smith's coach and father, Pete Froedden, has been trying to discourage him from shooting the floater, but instinct took over.
"I've been trying to break a habit of it," said Smith. "But it was a tough situation. I just wanted to get a shot off and give us our best chance, and if I missed to get a rebound for someone else."
It was Smith's only field goal of the game on a night when they were in short supply. The Warriors shot just 24 percent from the field (13-for-54), but made up for it at the free-throw line, where they were 16-for-20.
The Rockets (18-9) shot better from the field (39.5 percent) but made just 10 of 22 free throws.
Central led the entire way after taking a 7-0 lead. The Rockets held a 43-35 advantage about 2 minutes into the fourth quarter, but would score just 1 point the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Wheaton Academy kept plugging away.
Will Burdett made a 3-pointer to make it 44-43 and, after a steal and a couple of misses, Smith hit the winning shot.
"We played super tight the whole game," said Froedden. "We never could get any kind of rhythm. And they did an unbelievable job of preparing and executing what they wanted to do defensively and offensively. I love watching those guys play. They did a great job. We were fortunate to get a win."
Offensive rebounds were a key to the Warriors' comeback. After being outrebounded through three quarters, they maintained a 13-3 advantage in the final period, many coming on the offensive end.
"For a lot of the time we were struggling rebounding, both offensively and defensively, and I think just being down drove us to another level, boxing out, going up for rebounds," Froedden said. "Our intensity went up. We weren't playing any different. We struggled shooting tonight, so we had to raise our intensity."
Behr finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 blocks for Wheaton Academy. Evan Williams added 10 points.
Reed Hunnicutt led Central with 17 points. Sean Fitzgerald added 11 and Brett Rau had 8.
Central coach Brett Porto focused on the positives, such as the effort involved in building the big lead.
"I'm very, very proud of my team," he said. "I thought we frustrated them offensively, and with our ability to move the ball side-to-side. Reed was pretty much great for us all night."