St. Edward speeds past Reed-Custer for sectional crown
EL PASO, Ill. -- St. Edward boys basketball coach PJ White and his staff theorized as to how to slow high-scoring Reed-Custer's offense, but he said the attack plan wasn't finalized until right before Friday's Class 2A El Paso-Gridley sectional final.
St. Edward's two-pronged approach to limiting an offense that entered the Sweet 16 averaging 89 points per game?
First, keep Reed-Custer from launching 50 3-pointers like it did in a sectional semifinal win over Illiana Christian.
Second, send the Comets to the free-throw line so often they would leave a tail brighter than Halley's. The Green Wave brain trust suspected Reed-Custer was vulnerable at the foul line.
The strategy played out to near perfection in an 85-69 St. Edward victory. The Wave limited the run-and-shoot Comets -- who sank 19 3-pointers in their semifinal win -- to 10-of-29 shooting from 3-point range and they missed 16 of 27 free-throw attempts.
"It was defense the whole way," White said. "They were scoring at 89 points a game. They scored 69. That was the play. Whether we could do it or not, we found out tonight."
St. Edward (26-5) broke the school record for wins in a season with its 26th. More importantly, the Green Wave advance to face Rockridge in a supersectional at the NIU Convocation Center in DeKalb on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
The sectional title is the first for St. Edward since Kevin Dix coached the Green Wave to its second straight Class A sectional title in 1996-97.
"It's no surprise to us. We knew we could do it," said senior Nick Duffy, who led all scorers with 27 points to go with his 11 rebounds. "But we just took one game at a time."
"It's amazing," senior guard Joe French said. "There's really no other word for it. I'm just on cloud nine right now. We've been playing together since sixth grade. It's just awesome to finally do it with all my friends, the best friends I've had in my life."
The Green Wave benefitted from a solid start. They led 18-12 after one quarter, courtesy of 10 points and 5 rebounds from Duffy.
Reed-Custer (25-6) used a 14-6 run to take a 31-28 second-quarter lead, thanks largely to junior Travis Schoonover. The 6-foot-1 guard hit a pair of 3-pointers during the push. He scored 12 points in the quarter en route to a 25-point performance.
Due to St. Edward's strategy of sending the Comets to the free-throw line rather than risk open looks, fouls piled up quickly. Senior forward Danny Favela and sophomore guard Kelvin Cortez-Harvey were among the St. Edward players who found themselves in foul trouble in the second quarter.
In their place came reserves like guard Adam Radcliffe and forwards Bryan O'Neill and Sean Phelan. Each forward scored 4 points in the second quarter to help the Green Wave take a 40-37 halftime lead.
"We work hard in practice every day against the starters," said Phelan, who finished with 6 points and 2 rebounds. "Coach says you've got to be ready. So when my name was called I just came in and tried to make a difference."
Reed-Custer pulled within 50-48 with 2:15 left in the third quarter, but the Wave responded with a 10-0 run that bridged the quarter break. Senior Danny Favela ignited the decisive surge with a putback of one of his 13 rebounds (6 offensive). Guards Matt Hesch and Gino Domel followed with transition baskets and Duffy scored from the lane to give the Green Wave a 58-48 lead through three quarters.
Cortez-Harvey opened the fourth quarter with a steal he took the distance for a layup and a 12-point lead. The Comets were unable to pull any closer than 6 points the rest of the game despite sinking four 3-pointers in the final period.
"They took us out of a lot of the things we wanted to do," Reed-Custer coach Mark Porter said. "I thought they played real well defensively, very physical. That's something that's bothered us all year long, physical play. And not just inside with post play but with our guards. We struggled with that. It's something that we've talked about and worked on. We've tried to turn a weakness into a strength. We just didn't get it done."
Once the game ended, the Green Wave reflected on the past two weeks of thrilling basketball while looking ahead to more on Tuesday.
"We hoped it would happen. It was more just a dream," senior guard Gino Domel said of a chance to play for a state berth. "Now, it's great that it's a reality."