Wheaton Academy rally comes up short against Rockford Christian
The collective Wheaton Academy resolve never wavered.
The Class 2A Aurora Christian boys basketball regional championship game came down to the final possession Friday night.
The Warriors had a chance to either send the game to overtime or advance to the Marengo sectional with a 3-pointer.
But Rockford Christian senior forward Ike Johnson stole the Warriors' inbounds pass at the timeline and dribbled out the clock to preserve the Lions' 65-63 win in Aurora.
Rockford Christian, the subsectional third seed, improved to 20-10; sixth-seeded Wheaton Academy had its campaign come to a close at 16-15.
The Warriors, who trailed 41-26 after Rockford Christian hit four consecutive 3-pointers to open the second half as part of a 15-2 run, made it a one-possession game when Cole Andrews' steal and score with six seconds remaining reduced the Lions' lead to 64-63.
"I think we needed the points there," Andrews said when asked if he thought about kicking the ball beyond the arc for a potential game-tying field goal. "We still had five or six seconds left. We tried to get another steal."
"We were still in good shape there," Wheaton Academy coach Steve Thonn said of Andrews' quick two after stealing the ball in the Lions' paint. "We were going to have a chance to win it or tie it in some way."
Kaden McGaw split two free throws with 5.1 seconds to play to account for the final score.
The Johnson game-clinching theft came seconds after the Lions judiciously used a foul to give to slow the Warriors' last-gasp effort.
Each team had three players score in double figures as second-half play was a high-octane affair after the Lions went to halftime with a 26-24 lead.
But the Lions' 15-point cushion midway through the third quarter evaporated quickly.
Andrews, who finished with a game-high 21 points, spearheaded a furious Wheaton Academy comeback.
The Lions' spread was down to three after the Warriors' Sam Dykema canned a baseline-left 3-pointer to halve the Wheaton Academy deficit at 44-41 entering the fourth quarter.
Josh Oswald completed a fourth-quarter-opening 9-4 run with a second-chance score to give Wheaton Academy its only lead of the second half at 50-48.
But the Lions not only quickly tied the game with a conventional field goal; Elijah Daugherty and Kevion Cummings hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Rockford Christian a 56-50 lead that Wheaton Academy could never quite surmount.
"I felt like we slacked off a little bit," Cummings said of the Lions' 15-point squandered advantage. "They came back with a little more energy than we thought they had. Hitting our shots--that's what got us there (to Marengo)."
Cummings and his freshman brother, Christian, combined for 33 points for Rockford Christian.
Sam Anderson and Adam Baarman had 14 and 12 points, respectively, for Wheaton Academy.
"I give my props to (Rockford Christian)," Anderson said. "They put the ball in the net, and that's what won them the game."