Notre Dame senior Jeameril Wilson had a front-row seat in the fourth quarter of the Dons' Class 4A regional final against No. 7 seed Niles North.
But not by choice.
Saddled with foul trouble, Wilson had to sit and watch as the Vikings built a 52-39 lead with 3:54 to play.
"It was rough knowing that your team was having a defensive breakdown and I couldn't be there to help them out," Wilson said.
The good news for the No. 2-seeded Dons, Wilson came back in the game and his return sparked an epic comeback that even impressed longtime head coach Tom Les.
Notre Dame scored the final 16 points of the game and when senior Matt Stritzel dropped in a layup with 1:04 to play, the Dons had taken the lead for good. Niles North had one final look at a 3, but it rimmed out and Notre Dame survived 55-52.
Notre Dame (24-5) captured its third consecutive regional title and will move on to the sectional semifinals Wednesday night against No. 6 seed and sectional host Waukegan. Waukegan upset No. 3 seed Stevenson 82-71.
"We turned the pressure up there in the fourth and we had five seniors on the floor that had been there before," Les said of his group that was part of a sectional championship one year ago. "We are an experienced team and I think that made the biggest difference in the last 4 minutes or so."
Niles North (21-10) built its fourth quarter advantage by scoring the first ten points of the period.
Senior Damaria Franklin, who had just 7 points through the first three quarters, found his touch in the fourth as he scored 9 of his team best 16 in the quarter to build the 52-39 lead.
"We had that run to start the fourth where things were going well," said Niles North coach Glenn Olson. "From there we didn't do a good job of handling time and score very well."
The Notre Dame run started on an offensive rebound and put back from Sean Johnson and then continued on a 3-point-play from Wilson to cut the margin to single digits at 52-44 with 2:44 left.
"Coach just told us to keep our composure," said Wilson who scored 13 of his game-best 18 points in the second half. "When we got it down to 8 points we had lost our composure before then, but we stayed composed and confident."
The Notre Dame press, accompanied by North misses, led to long run outs and layups from Malik Jenkins (15 points), Wilson and the back breaker from Stritzel (10 points).
Julius Francellno helped build the Niles North lead in the third quarter as he scored all 10 of his points in the period.