Moertl, Palatine find the range
Jake Moertl has struggled for Palatine's boys basketball team this season. But the senior picked the perfect time to break out of his slump.
Moertl drilled a 3-point basket with 2 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime. Palatine then outscored Conant 10-3 in the extra frame to knock of the Cougars 65-58 on Friday in Hoffman Estates.
It has been a battle for Moertl to even get on the court for Palatine (13-9, 4-2). The senior was banged up from football and missed the start of the season. He then missed a couple more games with the flu. Even when he played for the Pirates this year, he could never find his comfort zone.
That all changed Friday.
"It has been a struggle," said Moertl, who despite sporting a black eye finished with a season-high 15 points. "But coach has believed in me and my teammates believed in me too. And that's all that matters to me."
Trailing 55-52 with less than 10 seconds to play in regulation, Palatine moved the ball around the outside of the arc, looking for an open shot. Conant (14-6, 3-3) played defense to near perfection, jumping out to defend the Pirates.
Palatine swung the ball inside to Johnny O'Shea, who opted not to take an easy 2-point basket and passed it back outside Moertl. After taking a step to the side, Moertl drilled the tying shot.
"I thought we were very patient," Palatine coach Eric Millstone said. "We got the ball to a kid who finally came around. We could not have asked for a better shooter than to have Jake shoot that ball."
Cortez Hogans, who finished with 8 points, said Moertl's play came at precisely the right time for the Pirates.
"Thank God for Jake Moertl," Hogans said. "This was a great win. We needed that."
Palatine got to that point by making a furious comeback.
The Pirates trailed 50-41 with 3:22 to play and Conant had the ball. But the Cougars made an errant pass, and Palatine jumped at the opportunity to get back in the game.
Lamon Berry drilled one of his 4 three-pointers as Palatine ran off 7 unanswered points to close to 50-48 with 2:23 left in regulation on a Moertl 3.
"I made a couple of shots," said Berry, who finished with 21 points. "I missed some shots, but coach told me to keep on shooting."
Conant had an opportunity to put the game away in the final 20 seconds, when it was leading 53-52. Twice the Cougars went to the line to shoot a pair of free throws. But on both occasions, they converted just 1 free throw to lead 55-52.
"We kind of faltered down the stretch," Conant coach Jim Maley said. "You can't do that late in the game. You can't throw the ball away, and you have to knock down your free throws."
Palatine was able to pull away in overtime thanks to its free throw shooting. Leading 59-58, Palatine converted all 6 of its foul shots in the final 37 seconds with Moertl, Berry and O'Shea all making their attempts.
"It was a great team game for us," said O'Shea, who finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds. "We like to go inside when we can, but we got some great outside shooting from Berry and Moertl."
Millstone was happy with how his team came back.
" In our conference, you have to compete until the final buzzer," Millstone said. "I thought our kids brought it. And down 9 with three minutes left showed a lot of character."
Conant got another huge performance from Ryan Davis. "Big Country" finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out in overtime. Raj Mittal finished with 17 points and Ben Schols had 7.
"It was very disappointing," Maley said. "Especially because I thought we were in control of the game."
Palatine kept pace in the crazy MSL West with Barrington and Fremd, who both posted victories. Those three teams are 4-2 in conference play.
"At this point, you can't expect help from other teams," Millstone said. "If you want to accomplish something, you have to go out and earn it. And we earned this one."