As a senior on the Carmel boys basketball team, Jack George is tasked with leading the team both on and off the court. That can often include light-hearted moments to break up the stress of a long basketball season.
"I try to keep it light sometimes," the 6-foot-10 George said, "but I wasn't happy with the way we played (Tuesday night) and as a team I felt like we could have done a lot better."
So the normally chatty and affable George took time Friday night before the third-seeded Corsairs' Class 3A regional title game at Ridgewood against No. 6 seed Vernon Hills to collect his thoughts and focus on the task at hand.
The approach worked for George, and the Corsairs benefitted. George scored 13 of his game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter to lift Carmel to a 49-43 win over the Cougars, netting a second consecutive regional crown for the Corsairs.
Carmel also picked up its a school record-tying 24th win, matching the mark set by the 1984-85 team, which had 8 losses.
The Corsairs advance to the Antioch sectional semifinals to meet Uplift, a 64-49 winner over Richmond-Burton, at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Vernon Hills closed out its season with a 16-12 record.
"Last night in practice I have never seen a kid more focused than Jack was," said Carmel coach Tim Bowen. "He was huge in the second half. He did some nice stuff getting to the basket and was stronger with the basketball."
Carmel opened the final quarter by taking a 33-25 lead before the Cougars made yet another run to get back into the game. It was nothing new for coach Matt McCarty and Vernon Hills. In their first meeting with Carmel back in December, a game the Corsairs won 56-50, the Cougars found themselves playing catch-up most of the night then as well.
"This game was kind of similar to when we played (Carmel) on their home floor," McCarty said. "We got down early there and trailed late only to come back and make it a game."
The Cougars rattled of a quick 8-2 burst that pulled them within 35-33 with 4:05 to go. That's when George took over, and Vernon Hills had no answer.
George scored the next 5 points and capped a 9-2 run with a thunderous dunk that put Carmel back up 44-35 with just over a minute to play.
"In the first half I wasn't strong with the ball like I wanted to be," said George, who had 8 rebounds. "In the second half I was more aggressive going to the basket and got the dunk to go with it."
Vernon Hills was able to hang in the game after falling behind early 14-2 thanks to the play of talented junior Robby Nardini. His quick-release jump shot accounted for 19 points, including a pair of long 3-pointers that gave the Cougars the lead in the third quarter as they capped a 12-0 run.
"We just tried to keep our composure even when we fell behind," Nardini said. "In the end Carmel's size hurt us."
Sophomore Chris Duff, who guarded Nardini most of the night, accounted for 12 points for a Carmel program that has won back-to-back regional crowns for the first time since 1991.