Leading by 15 points at halftime, the South Elgin boys basketball team gave up a lot to Jacobs in the second half of Wednesday's Class 4A Elgin sectional semifinal.
But the Storm never gave up the most important thing -- the lead.
South Elgin weathered every comeback Jacobs attempted and used 13 3-pointers to help the cause in a 71-66 win that vaults the Storm into the program's first sectional championship game.
South Elgin (18-14) will take on Rockford Auburn (26-7) Friday at 7 p.m. at Chesbrough Field House for the right to advance to next Tuesday's supersectional at the NIU Convocation Center against either Stevenson or Fremd.
The Storm won Wednesday without first-year coach Matt Petersen, who was suspended for the remainder of the season on Tuesday by the IHSA when it was learned the Storm had played one more regular-season game than IHSA rules allow. Assistant coach Steve Szpejnowski, the son of former Streamwood coach Leo Szpejnowski, coached the team on Wednesday and will be the interim head coach for the remainder of the season. By IHSA rule, Petersen is not allowed to attend practices or games.
"Coach (Petersen) gave us all the tools," said Storm senior Matt Smith, who scored 14 points in the win. "We just had to keep playing hard, we trusted in our system and we got the W."
Senior Darius Wells made 6 of 10 from 3-point range and led the Storm with 26 points. He scored 16 in the first half including 11 in the second quarter when he hit four of his treys.
That staked the Storm to a 37-22 lead after they finished the first half on a 14-2 run that included a Wells 3 just before the buzzer.
But Jacobs (18-15) came out on an 8-0 run to start the third quarter and cut the deficit to 37-30 after a basket from junior Kenton Mack with 6:15 left in the period. South Elgin built the lead back to 11, 47-36, on a bucket in the paint from senior Shpend Mahumdi with 2:36 left in the third but the Golden Eagles again came back, going on an 8-0 run to close to within 47-44 on two free throws from junior Mike Canady with 48 seconds left.
"We talked at halftime about how we were going to come back and make it a game and the kids believed that," said Jacobs coach Jimmy Roberts. "We fought back all year long and that's the best thing about this group."
Again, though, South Elgin used the 3-ball as senior Matt McClure hit one with 39 seconds left to make it 50-44, then Wells stole a pass at midcourt and buried a 30-footer at the buzzer to make it a 53-44 game going into the fourth quarter.
But Jacobs was far from ready to pack it in. The Eagles used scores from Mack, junior Chrishawn Orange, freshman Cameron Krutwig and Mack again in the first 95 seconds of the fourth quarter to slice the Storm's lead to 53-52.
South Elgin then went on a 10-0 run over the next 2 ½ minutes to take a 63-52 lead with 3:59 to play. Six-eight sophomore Tyler Hankins started the run with two free throws, Smith scored off a steal, McClure hit a 3-pointer, Wells drove the lane for a basket and sophomore Jake Amrhein finished the run with a basket off another steal.
Jacobs did cut the lead to 5, 69-64, on two free throws from Mack with 34 seconds left but Smith and Wells each made a free throw in the final 21 seconds to help South Elgin hold off the Golden Eagles and advance to Friday's title game.
"Those two 3s at the end of the third were killers," Roberts said. "But we came back and cut it one and that was so much fun. That's why you coach, that's why you play and work as hard as you do to get into those moments.
"You get so close ... it's so hard to get over the hump. If we had just found a way to get the lead that would have been a huge thing. I thought we had a great opportunity to win but (South Elgin) did enough and those two guards (Smith and Wells) hit some big shots."
Wells, who was 8 of 17 on the night overall, led a South Elgin offense that made 25 of 55, including 13 of 24 from 3-point range.
"With me and Matt Smith being senior leaders, we had the time out (when the lead was cut to one) and we just huddled up and said stay in the game," Wells said. "We just had to keep our heads and not let their momentum get to us."
Smith added 4 assists and 4 steals for the Storm, while McClure had 12 points, all on 3-pointers, and 3 assists.
"We just had to go back to what we were doing and keep the pressure up," said Szpejnowski, a longtime member of now-retired Tim Jones' staff at Streamwood who is in his first year at South Elgin. "We're used to the up-tempo pressure stuff. We do that in practice everyday.
"Our seniors really stepped up tonight and took care of business when they had to. The seniors elevated the play of everyone else. Seniors rise to the occasion in big-time situations. As of late (Wells) has been our best player and this is the best he's played all year. He's peaking at the right time."
Amhrein added 10 points for the Storm and Hankins had 7 rebounds. The Storm defense helped create 24 Jacobs turnovers.
Mack and junior Cory Boeckh each had 15 points to lead Jacobs, Boeckh hitting on 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Orange and Krutwig (8 rebounds) had 11 points each and Ben Murray added 10 for the Eagles, who were 22 of 49 shooting and won the rebound battle 37-25.