St. Patrick's sharpshooting wasn't going to fluster North Chicago, and neither was an unforced turnover with the outcome of Tuesday night's Class 3A Antioch sectional semifinal still in doubt.
So as the Warhawks jogged back on defense following a stoppage in play, after throwing the basketball out of bounds, Kurt Hall put his arm around teammate JayQuan McCloud and offered some words of encouragement.
"He said, ‘It's OK. We'll get it back next possession,' " McCloud said.
Clinging to a 4-point advantage at the time, North Chicago never lost possession of the lead. After St. Patrick got within 2, the Warhawks closed the game with a 10-2 run and pulled out a 55-45 win.
"St. Pats is a great team," North Chicago coach Gerald Coleman said. "Their coach (Mike Bailey) is one of the best coaches in the state. He doesn't really have a superstar, but he's got several players that he taught to play hard and be fundamentally sound."
The Division I-bound duo of Hall (Toledo) and McCloud (Murray State) scored 20 and 16 points, respectively, as top-seeded North Chicago (24-5) advanced to Friday's 7 p.m. sectional final against the winner of tonight's game between No. 3 Carmel Catholic and No. 2 Uplift.
Leading just 40-38 after three quarters, North Chicago maintained its poise in the final quarter. The Warhawks led Grayslake Central just 39-34 after three quarters in last Friday's regional final, before winning by 18 points.
"That's something we've been working on -- keeping our composure," Hall said. "We can't panic. We got to stay together. We can't get down on each other."
No. 4 St. Patrick (16-13) was led by junior guard Nicholas Coleman, who hit five 3-pointers and scored a team-high 19 points. Sophomore guard Sean Ek (8 points) buried a pair of 3s for the Shamrocks, and 6-foot-3 junior Adrian Pierzchanowski also made one.
"Our biggest concern was probably their shooting," said Warhawks guard JaVairius Amos-Mays, who had 7 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. "They can flat-out shoot. I think we did a good job with our man-to-man defense. When we turned a man, and our extra man came around to double-team, I think that threw them off a lot. And then taking away the shot, that really frustrated them."
Amos-Mays' 2 free throws with 34 seconds left in the third snapped a 38-38 tie. St. Patrick trailed only 42-41 after Coleman drained his fifth 3 with 6:38 to go in the fourth. But the Warhawks hit 9 of 12 free throws in the quarter and tightened up defensively to keep the Shamrocks at bay.
"We pretty much beat teams up the first three quarters and wear them out for the fourth," said McCloud, who sank all 4 of his free throws in the fourth, while also dishing out 3 assists and grabbing 3 rebounds in the quarter . "We just take control of (the game), pick up the intensity on defense, start working the ball around and get everybody involved."
North Chicago shot 42 percent (19 of 45) from the floor against St. Patrick's zone and made 65 percent (15 of 23) of its free throws. Arnold Shead added 7 points and 6 rebounds for the Warhawks, who trailed 33-31 midway through the third.
"We knew it was going to be a good game because of the conference (East Suburban Catholic) they're in, how disciplined they are and how hard they play," Gerald Coleman said. "I was proud of my guys. I told them after the game, ‘No, we didn't play our up-tempo style, but what you proved was you can play this style, too.' "