Top sub-sectional seed Northridge Prep had the lead on its home floor at halftime of Friday's Class 2A regional championship game in Niles, but No. 4 St. Edward had senior guard Kelvin Cortez-Harvey and a suddenly hot supporting cast.
The latter proved to be more important in a 68-43 St. Edward victory.
Trailing 25-19 at the half after shooting 7 of 24 from the field, the Green Wave defense ignited a 29-8 third-quarter rally that changed the game's complexion.
Cortez-Harvey snagged 3 of his 8 steals in the third when he scored 11 of his game-high 25 points. One highlight was a theft and ensuing breakaway layup that staked his team to its first lead, 29-28, two minutes into the period. It was a long climb back considering Northridge Prep (22-6) opened the game on a 14-1 run.
"I don't know what got into him but he was on fire," teammate AJ Franklin said of Cortez-Harvey.
Likewise, Cortez-Harvey credited Franklin for hitting a 3-pointer when Northridge Prep led 28-21. From that point forward St. Edward (17-10) outscored the Knights 47-15.
"A.J. hit a couple of shots in the beginning and that just got us going," Cortez-Harvey said of the third-quarter blitz. "Then we started playing full-court defense. We started applying pressure and getting steals and that just gave us energy."
Reversing a first-half trend, the Green Wave made 18 of 24 second-half shots, including 6 of 7 from 3-point range.
"We all knew that if we lost this game, it would be our last game of the season," said St. Edward senior Steve Poremba, who sank a pair of third-quarter 3-pointers. "I think it just lit a fire under our butts and we came out on fire."
The regional title is the second in three seasons for St. Edward, which advances to a Guerin sectional semifinal against DePaul College Prep (19-9) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. DePaul defeated Latin 57-23 Friday.
Asked about the magic formula that led to the turnaround, seventh-year St. Edward coach P.J. White pointed to conditioning rather than strategy.
"We were getting faster as the game went on and they were starting to slow down a little bit. I just think that helps," White said. "We work really hard all year to stay in condition and stay in shape and we always talk about being a fourth-quarter (team)."
Northridge Prep coach Will Rey credited the turnaround, largely, to Cortez-Harvey, a four-year varsity player who gave the Knights' perimeter ballhandlers fits.
"He is just such an explosive player," Rey said. "He has quick hands, quick feet. He just creates a lot of havoc defensively. They turned us over and that led to some runouts and then they got a little bit of confidence going offensively and their outside shooting got better. Just a lot of things came together for them."
Poremba finished with 12 points and Franklin added 9 points for St. Edward, all in the second half. Dylan Mlinarich and Will Gaston contributed 7 points apiece.
Sophomore Jon Evans led Northridge Prep with 12 points while senior guard Kiko Maso finished with 11.