Wheaton North survives 'nerve-wracking' ending against Glenbard East
Josh Sorensen was understandably nervous.
The senior on the Wheaton North boys basketball team had a pair of free throws with 5.1 seconds to play and a 1-point lead.
"I mean, obviously it was nerve-wracking," Sorensen said.
But what really made him fret was what happened after he sunk his free throws.
Glenbard East's Kenny Adams caught the ball, dribbled upcourt and passed the basketball to Alijah Nelson, who took one dribble and shot from the volleyball attack line.
"At first I was like, 'No way he hits this,'" Sorensen said, "and then I saw it through the air and I was like, 'Oh, that's in.'"
But, luckily for Sorensen and Wheaton North, the shot hit the back of the iron, clinching Wheaton North's 45-42 win over Glenbard East in the Class 4A regional at Bartlett. The Falcons will play Wheaton Warrenville South on Tuesday in the regional semifinal. The Tigers have beaten the Falcons twice this season, the last one a 34-32 win on Jan. 23.
The final shot was nearly déjà vu for Wheaton North (16-12).
"We had one earlier in the year against Metea Valley, it went to double overtime (and) they hit a bunch of those shots against us," junior Matthew Brend said. "I'm happy we got one to bounce our way. We'll take it."
It was a heartbreaking end of the season for Glenbard East (11-16).
"I thought it was good, we had a good look," Glenbard East coach Scott Miller said. "That was kind of the story of our season. We've had six overtime games, we've had three that we've missed shots like that to send it into overtime or win it. It's fitting that the season kind of ended with a shot like that."
The Rams had a chance earlier to shoot for the tie.
With 31 seconds to play, Brend was fouled and split a pair of free throws that gave Wheaton North a 43-40 lead. The Rams took the ball upcourt, held the ball for 12 seconds and called a timeout.
That's when Wheaton North decided to not give them a shot at a tie. The Falcons fouled Nelson out of the timeout and Nelson hit both free throws.
"The thought process was that I've been in enough games were teams have hit a 3 to tie," Wheaton North coach Dave Brackmann said. "It's kind of a philosophy thing that I've sort of turned to recently. I've never been in this situation to execute it."
The Falcons knew exactly what they had to do.
"What we were trying to do was foul them when their back was to the basket," Sorensen said. "We didn't want any chance of them shooting a shot or passing up the floor."
Glenbard East allowed Sorensen to catch the ensuing inbounds pass and immediately fouled him.
"I was totally confident," Brend said. "He's been probably our best free-throw shooter all year and I was happy he was at the free-throw line."
Sorensen wasn't as sure.
"I had missed some earlier, so I had a little doubt in my mind," Sorensen -- who was 10 of 12 from the line -- said. "I knew I was missing short, so I shot it long and I made it."
Glenbard East had a strong start to the second quarter. Wheaton North was leading 14-13 when Nelson hit a 3, DaRon Hall had a layup and Hall hit a 3 on consecutive possessions to open up its biggest lead of the game at 21-14.
"I feel like our energy wasn't quite all there," Sorensen said.
The Falcons quickly gained their energy back. Deng Reng had a layup and Sorensen hit 5 of 6 free throws to close the half on a 7-0 run.
"We just tried to slow it down," Brend said. "We tried to slow it down, get it to our big guys and (Sorensen) got to the free-throw line a ton and just get back to our game."
They carried that momentum into the third quarter. Brend hit a runner and Sorensen had a steal on the ensuing possession that he took for a layup to give Wheaton North a 25-21 lead -- it's first of the game -- it would not relinquish.
"I think we were kind of hesitant to go to the basket and take our shots (in the first half)," Sorensen said. "When we finally did get going, we started playing calm and relaxed and we finally started hitting shots."
And Wheaton North gets another crack at Wheaton Warrenville South.
"We really wanted to get revenge against Wheaton South," Sorensen said. "We just came to this game like, take it one game at a time. And then we just really want to beat Wheaton South (Tuesday)."