Conant is hoping to turn the boys Class 4A boys basketball state tournament into a lengthy farewell tour for retiring coach Tom McCormack.
They started it Tuesday evening at Palatine, against the hosts, and got this tour started with a bang, producing a 19-point run from the first quarter into the second that turned a 3-point deficit into a double-digit lead that wouldn't be challenged in a 54-32 win over a Palatine team that had proved pesky against them previously.
The Cougars (25-4) will play for the regional title Friday night against the winner of Wednesday's Barrington-McHenry game.
But Conant played like the second-seeded team it is in the Arlington Heights sectional. The Cougars turned a 10-7 deficit into a 26-10 bulge approaching halftime by turning up their defensive pressure and leveraging their height advantage.
"Our coaches said we had 10 or 11 stops there and we turned them into offense," McCormack said. It started with 6-foot-10 sophomore's Ryan Davis' free throws. Designated disruptor C.J. Deshazer came off the bench and tossed home a 3. Sophomore Raja Mittal entered off the bench as well and added a hoop on a slick pass from point guard Jimmy Sotos to close the first quarter, and Davis' long 3 opened the second quarter.
Smaller, less-experienced Palatine (12-19) was running out of options and not getting any clean looks at the basket thanks to Davis and 6-9 junior Mike Downing, who contributed a high-flying tip-in to the run, which Sotos (11 points) closed with a 3-pointer.
"Our big guys dominated inside," McCormack said of Davis (24 points) and Downing, "and Jimmy (Sotos) ran the show. We got a big lift from Raja Mittal off the bench."
Palatine, which starts four underclassmen, got 10 points from Jake Moertl, including a pair of 3-pointers. He'll be back next year. The Pirates got 6 points on two more 3-pointers from Scottie Elter, who won't be back but was the team's backbone for so long, especially when the Pirates revitalized their season in the second half of the schedule.
The Dayton-bound sharpshooter said he'll be back to see his young teammates play whenever possible, but, "It's always been a blast playing for coach (Eric) Millstone," and he feels the program is headed in the right direction.
Conant was just too much, though.
"They have guys all over the court," Elter said. "Davis is huge, and the way Jimmy (Sotos) handles the ball," makes it tough to match up with them.
"It's really difficult to game-plan for those guys," said Millstone, who will become one of the Mid-Suburban's elder statesmen with McCormack retiring. As to Elter, "He missed his entire junior year," due to injury. "His leadership has been tremendous."
Conant now will return to the practice floor and try to smooth out the remaining turnover wrinkles and defensive-rotation hiccups, McCormack said.
"Everyone knows who we are and what we do by now," McCormack said.
Maybe that's why the "tour" has the potential for long legs.