For a team like North Chicago, three really good minutes can be enough to turn a game around.
Midway through the third quarter of the Class 3A Antioch sectional championship, that time arrived.
To that point, Carmel was doing exactly what it needed to keep its cool against pressure and use its size advantage. The Corsairs built a 46-41 lead on Nickai Poyser's lay in off a pass from Billy Kirby.
Over the next three minutes or so, North Chicago put together a rush of steals, turnovers and basket attacks. The Warhawks delivered a lightning-fast, game-changing 16-2 run.
The Corsairs stayed within striking distance the rest of the way, but never regained the momentum. North Chicago cruised to a 79-70 victory, winning its sixth sectional title in the last seven years. The Warhawks (25-5) will face Orr on Tuesday in the Hoffman Estates supersectional. It's a rematch of last year's super, won by Orr 63-49.
"They were going to throw everything they had at us in the third quarter. We knew it," Carmel coach Tim Bowen said. "We knock down a couple more of those layups in the third quarter early on, I think we stay with them a little bit longer. I don't know if it changes the outcome of the game at all. We warned them it's going to be a battle."
North Chicago's two Division I players delivered in this one. Six-foot-6 forward Kurt Hall (Toledo) finished with 25 points, while 6-4 guard Jayquan McCloud added 19.
Carmel was led by 6-10 senior center John George and 6-1 sophomore Christopher Duff with 17 points each. Kirby added 15 and senior Michael Barr scored 13.
After a slow start, the Corsairs (25-9) were sharp in the second quarter and opened a 31-21 lead after Kirby's 3-pointer with 2:53 left in the first half. Kirby hit 5 of 7 shots from the field before halftime.
North Chicago was able to close within 37-34 by intermission. The first half was called tight and featured 29 free throws.
Carmel took its biggest lead of the second half at 46-41, before things turned quickly. Hall started the run with three straight baskets. Then Warhawks point guard Arnold Shead picked off a pass at midcourt and missed a dunk attempt. But that was a temporary setback. McCloud came back with a steal and lay in, then after the Corsairs threw a pass out of bounds, Hall scored again on a drive.
"It's about patience," McCloud said. "The first half, actually, it was about patience; wearing an opponent out first. In the third quarter, we just picked up the pressure and that caused defense to offense and we just made a run."
A driving lay in by junior Jamero Shelton capped the surge and gave North Chicago a 57-48 lead. The lead stayed at 9 heading into the fourth quarter.
"I think they were doing a better job against our press offense," Bowen said. "They made some adjustments and tried to bring a guy from the backside to try to take away some of our options."
The Corsairs' best chance of getting back into it came with 2:37 left, but they missed the front end of a one-and-one while trailing by 7.
Carmel's four senior starters made quite a mark. The school hadn't been to a basketball sectional since 1992 and this group reached the sectional title game two years in a row.
"It was fun," Kirby said. "It was a great experience, especially for this program, to put us back to where we should be and continue for the future.
Added Bowen, "They are my first senior group as head coach. I watched them grow from little freshmen to young men. You walk the halls as an educator, you see kids grow right in front of your own eyes. Watching these guys turn out the way they did for these last four years was special."