As comebacks go, this one was a beauty.
Libertvyille, which trailed Niles North the entire first half and by double-digits for much of the second quarter, staged a big-time rally Wednesday at the Wheeling Hardwood Classic.
The Wildcats went on a 26-5 run in the third quarter enroute to a 68-57 win over the Vikings, and the resurgence was fueled by momentum changing defensive play by 6-foot-3 senior Riley Gowens.
Gowens set the stage for the rally just after halftime when he jumped into the passing lane for a steal and a right-to-the-bucket layup that sent the Wildcats on their way.
"I anticipated it," said Gowens. "I saw him (the Niles North guard) come up with the ball and he left it out there a little bit, and I was able to take advantage."
"Riley's a kid that doesn't get a lot of publicity," said Libertyville coach Brent Mork, "except in baseball -- he's a great baseball player. But he's an energy kid who gives us a spark when we need it. That steal was a huge play."
Six-foot-7 senior Drew Peterson led the Wildcats with 26 points, including 13 in the pivotal third period, and added 11 rebounds as well.
"That's one of the best spurts I've ever seen," said Peterson. "To be down at halftime and then leading by 15 at the end of the third quarter is unbelievable. We came together as a team.
"We knew they were going to come out with a lot of pressure, and they did. We got down but made a good run near the end of the half to get close."
After Dravon Clayborn of Niles North opened the second half with a steal and a jumper, the Vikings led 33-27.
Then came the Gowens big play, followed by a Peterson 3 -- and the Wildcats kept rolling, tying the game at 35-35 on a Ryan Wittenbrink layup.
A 3 from Wittenbrink followed moments later to give Libertyville the lead, and it was more good times from that point forward.
Harrison Bach (11 points) nailed a 3-pointer along the way, then another 3 from Wittenbrink gave his team a 53-38 advantage going into the fourth.
"That was the best quarter of basketball we've played all year," said Mork. "I'm proud of our guys. They stayed aggressive and went right at them."
Damaria Franklin of Niles North tried to lead a Vikings comeback by scoring 15 of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter.
"He is a great player and he's got a nice pull-up jumper," said Peterson of Franklin. "He's phenomenal."
But Franklin couldn't help his team get the deficit below double digits, and clutch free throw shooting at the end from Wittenbrink (17 points) and Brandon Rule (8 points) helped seal the victory.
Rule added 8 boards to help Libertyville (7-5) win its sixth straight game, while Gowens pitched in with 6 points and 6 rebounds.
"It was tough," said Mork of trying to stave off the hard-working Vikings in the final period. "Niles North is a team that plays with a lot of passion, and they keep coming at you for 32 minutes.
"It was important for us not to take our foot of the gas, and keep taking what they gave us."