Big finish helps Lake Zurich past McHenry
Nick Meyer's uncontested layup was harder than it looked. At least he could laugh about the miss.
Lake Zurich's regional opener against McHenry was difficult too.
Ultimately, Meyer and his basketball teammates could breathe easy after Lake Zurich pulled away to beat the host Warriors 52-42 in the Class 4A McHenry regional semifinals Tuesday night.
Nick Penny had 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead Lake Zurich (22-9), the No. 3 seed in the Fremd sectional complex, which advances to Friday's 7 p.m. final against the winner of Wednesday's game between No. 6 Lake Park and No. 11 Hersey.
"I thought we'd be able to pull away a little earlier, but they got some players," Bears coach Billy Pitcher said of McHenry's Warriors. "They're quick. They're athletic. They really killed us with penetration."
No. 14 McHenry (14-16) had upset on its mind after senior Nick Bellich (team-high 17 points, five 3-pointers) hit a pull-up jumper 20 seconds into the fourth quarter to give the Warriors a 33-31 lead. But Penny answered with a baseline drive and his only 3-pointer, and then Michael Bens (12 points) hit a jumper to cap a 7-0 run.
"We were confident, even though we were tied (31-31) going into the fourth," Penny said. "(McHenry) played well. They were pretty hot so we knew at some point they had to calm down."
Up 42-36, Lake Zurich called a timeout with 3:05 left in the fourth. Out of the stoppage, the Bears ran a familiar play, as Penny found Meyer backdoor on the baseline. No defender was near Meyer, who missed the layup, only to grab his own rebound, score and draw the foul.
Meyer completed the 3-point play to increase Lake Zurich's advantage to 45-36, and McHenry never challenged after that.
"If I passed it to him earlier, he wouldn't have missed it," Penny said.
"It threw me off my rhythm a little bit," Meyer said with a laugh of being so wide open.
McHenry had pulled within 38-36 with five minutes left on Bellich's 3-pointer, but the Warriors didn't score again until sinking a free throw in the final 30 seconds. Lake Zurich used a 10-0 run -- which included Meyer's 3-point play and his 17-footer -- to increase its lead to 48-36.
Lake Zurich outscored McHenry 21-11 in the fourth in winning its third game in a row.
"The big difference was just defense," said Meyer, who finished with 12 points.
"That's got to be our No. 1 goal -- defense," Pitcher said. "We hit some shots, too. They do a great job with their back-line defense. We just couldn't get anything inside."
Colton Klein added 15 points (two 3-pointers) for McHenry, which had won seven of its last eight games.
"We knew they'd be tough," Penny said. "They got some tough seniors, and they didn't want to go home. That was a good team."