After taking a week off between its regular-season finale against Riverside-Brookfield and regional matchup with Nazareth on Tuesday, Wheaton Academy coach Steve Thonn was anxious to see how his team stacked up.
And while the second-seeded Warriors did look a little bit rusty at the start, they pulled out a comfortable 60-47 victory to advance to Friday night's Class 3A title game at St. Francis.
Wheaton Academy was out of rhythm offensively in the early going. The Warriors hit just 4 of 11 attempts in the first quarter and went into the second quarter tied with the eighth-seeded Roadrunners tied at 9.
However, as things settled down, Wheaton Academy began syncing things up. And even though it only led 19-17 at the half, it appeared to be moving in the right direction. Finally, in the third quarter, things really began opening up.
"We were just trying to do everything off of one or two passes in the first half," Thonn said. "We did a better job in the second half of just working the ball a little better and getting open shots that we weren't getting the first half."
After just 5 points in the first two quarters, senior Jayston Williams began to assert his will at the offensive end. He knocked down a corner 3-pointer early in the period to begin a 10-0 run for Wheaton Academy and made 5 of 6 free-throw attempts in the third.
Following an odd sequence with frantic play and turnovers by both teams late, Williams then took an inbounds pass with 3.4 seconds left in the period, got to midcourt and launched a high arcing shot that found nothing but nylon to give the Warriors a 40-30 cushion heading to the fourth quarter.
"Personally, it was my first regional game and I was all pumped and excited, so everyone's legs weren't really there and I was shooting a little short," Williams said. "But as the game went on we settled in and were able to play the way we normally play."
In the fourth quarter Nazareth mounted one more charge by aggressively attacking the offensive glass. Senior forward Michael Adams almost single-handedly got the Roadrunners back into the game with 8 points in roughly 90 seconds to cut the Wheaton Academy lead to 43-39 with 5:32 remaining.
Wheaton Academy answered by knocking down several big shots to extend its lead. Sophomore Marcus Bult hit a big corner 3 and then scored a three-point play on consecutive possessions to increase the gap to 9.
And Wheaton Academy was clutch at the free-throw line from that point forward to keep Nazareth at arm's length. The Warriors hit 17 of 23 free-throw attempts for the game, knocking down 11 of them in the fourth quarter alone. Williams made 10 of his 11 free-throw attempts in the game.
"When the jump shot isn't falling like it was today and I'm not necessarily making the shots I normally make, I have to find some sort of way to be able to assist my team," Williams said.
Williams led Wheaton Academy with 22 points while Jack Dykema and J.D. Gunn each managed 12. Adams kicked in 13 points and 11 rebounds for Nazareth (9-18).