Once St. Viator's basketball players lifted their jaws off the court, stunned by Simeon Henton's heroic shot that forced overtime for North Chicago, they grabbed a seat on their bench.
Of course winning the Class 3A Antioch sectional Friday night was going to be a difficult task for St. Viator. After all, in part due to a tough schedule, the Lions have never had a winning record this season.
"I looked at every one of them," St. Viator coach Quin Hayes said. "I told them what I've been telling them since the beginning of the year: Anything special that you accomplish is not easy."
Which made the Lions' 76-74 win over the top-seeded Warhawks even more satisfying.
"Right after regulation, we regrouped," Lions senior forward Daniel Morton said. "We said, 'We're not out of this. We got to come back, fight, get stops on defense and finish the game.' "
They did, outscoring North Chicago 4-2 in OT, as sophomores Jeremiah Hernandez and J.R. Cison each hit a pair of free throws. When North Chicago missed a long, contested shot in the closing seconds and the rebound caromed long, No. 3 St. Viator (14-15) had secured its first sectional championship (and second overall) since 2010. The Lions, who got a game-high 20 points (two 3-pointers) off the bench from guard Marc Clark, will face Fenwick in Tuesday's 6 p.m. supersectional at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
North Chicago, which was led by the Chicago State-bound Henton's 19 points, finished 20-9.
"I thought St. Viator played very, very well," Warhawks coach Gerald Coleman said. "If they keep their pace and the way they play, they could get (downstate) to Peoria."
St. Viator trailed by 7 points after a North Chicago 8-0 run in the second quarter but went into halftime down only 33-31 after Tom Majerus beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer. The game remained close the entire second half, but while St. Viator made 19 of 22 free throws in the game, the Lions had 2 tough misses late.
Cison misfired on the first of 2 free throws with 13.6 seconds left in the fourth before making the second to hike the Lions' lead to 71-69. Then Morton sank his first of 2 foul tosses with 5.1 seconds to go, only to miss the second.
Henton chased down the rebound in the corner and hustled the ball across the center-court line. From several feet behind the arc, he pulled up and launched a shot that hit nothing but net.
"Coach always tells me it's up to me if we win or lose, so I took the game-winning shot," Henton said. "I just looked at the clock and saw 3 seconds. The ball's got to go in the air."
Cison played fearlessly and like a veteran all night, scoring 11 of his 17 points, including back-to-back buckets late, in the fourth quarter. His 2 free throws opened the scoring in OT.
"It felt good," said Cison, who finished 7 of 8 from the line. "I knew I could hit them. I'd been hitting them all game. I knew if I did hit them, it was one step closer to winning, so I just really tried to focus."
Coleman was impressed with St. Viator's young point guard.
"I've watched (No.) 21 (Cison) play 2-3 times, and I saw a different player tonight," Coleman said. "I thought he controlled their team. He was a key factor. He had a lot of assists, and he was getting people involved."
St. Viator got outrebounded 40-32 (North Chicago grabbed 14 offensive boards) but stayed in a man-to-man defense all night. That's what the Lions have played all season.
"That's who we are," Hayes said. "I'm stubborn in that regard. I feel like when you commit to something, you got to stay with it and see it all the way through. At times, (North Chicago) hurt us, no question. But they're going to hurt you no matter what (defense) you're in. They're so talented. They're so quick."
Raeshaun Samoa came off North Chicago's bench to score 16 points and grab 9 rebounds (6 offensive). Terrell Grier had 15 points and 11 boards, and Dyshawn Gales contributed 11 points.
Hernandez (15 points) and Morton (11) also scored in double figures for St. Viator, which got 7 from Majerus off the bench.
"It's an amazing feeling," Morton said, as the Lions celebrated with their fans on the court. "All season we've been battling defensively, playing close games. We've had a couple of other games that came down to the wire like this, so we were a little experienced with that. It was just a huge win for us."