IC Catholic Prep had Clark right where it wanted. Watching the Knights make free throws.
Similar to its regional final victory when No. 4 seed IC Catholic bled Timothy Christian dry from the foul line, it did the same Tuesday night to the No. 2 Eagles.
ICCP (20-9) needed only 10 field goals while hitting 35 of 41 free throws, 23 of 26 in the fourth quarter to pace a 61-51 Class 2A Timothy Christian sectional semifinal victory in Elmhurst. Kevin Cheng made 9 of 10 fourth-quarter free throws, Alex Meurer hit all 8, Nico Gaudio was 4 of 4 and Kris Askew swished two.
"Those are all seniors that have been through a lot of this experience. They're mentally prepared for the moment. It's just about routine and rhythm at that point," said Knights coach T.J. Tyrrell, advancing to his second sectional final Friday against the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between Uplift and defending Class 2A champion Orr.
"Free throws are key for us, especially with our defense," Tyrrell said. "We keep games low scoring, so every basket counts."
One seemed to count a lot. Led by forward Coby Weekly, Clark (12-15) countered a Knights 12-2 run to draw even at 17-17 in the last minute of the first half. Cheng, who tied Weekly for scoring honors with 21 points, hit a 3 from the top of the key to send ICCP into halftime up 20-17.
"That got us going into the locker room with our heads up," Cheng said. "We had some confidence going into the second half."
Despite Clark dominating rebounds 35-21 with Weekly grabbing 11 and Derrick Linzy 16, the pace was not what Eagles coach Terry Head sought.
"I was hoping we could get up-tempo and get to our game, then we'll be OK. But we never got up-tempo," he said.
Late in the third quarter ICCP led only 27-24, but when the Knights got into the bonus at 1:37 of the third quarter, then Dominic Gaudio hit the first of his two big 3-pointers, ICCP fended off pressure and strolled to the line. The Knights committed just 6 turnovers to Clark's 16.
"It is important," Askew said. "They put a lot of pressure on us and we practice it almost every day, so it's kind of like second nature to us."
ICCP extended a 33-26 lead after three quarters to 55-40 with 2:03 left in the fourth. Meurer, for example, scored 18 points with but one basket, a second-quarter 3.
Now a chance Friday to "shock the world," as Tyrrell said.
"That puts us to 20 wins, which was a goal," he said. "But sectional is a bigger goal. We've got two days to prepare and we're back to work now."