Grayslake Central hangs on to down Crystal Lake South
Crystal Lake South's Arnav Jain stood alone at the free-throw line, with no time on the clock, hoping to sink three free throws and send the Gators into overtime with Grayslake Central.
The junior guard swished the first one, then bent his back to provide a little body English and help the second shot rattle home.
Jain released his third shot and walked away from the line before the ball hit iron, knowing it was a bit long.
"I knew as soon as I let it go," Jain said. "I don't think it was nerves, it was just mental discipline stuff, fundamentals, not holding my follow-through."
Rams forward Brendan Whelan's 3-pointer from 23 feet with 1.9 seconds remaining stood as the game-winner for a 53-52 nonconference boys basketball victory Saturday at The Swamp in Crystal Lake.
Grayslake Central (2-1) set up the play with Whelan inbounding the ball, setting a flare screen and releasing to the top of the key. Forward Zoel Martinez picked for Whelan, who buried the shot.
"We originally were going to run a different play, but we decided to run a flare screen for me in the back and when I put the shot up it felt good," said Whelan, who is 6-foot-4. "I hit that and said, 'Game over, baby!' "
Except it was not over yet. South called its last timeout and the officials gathered at the scorer's table and decided 1.9 should be on the clock.
In the timeout Gators coach Matt LePage drew up the play called "Pacer," made famous by Valparaiso guard Bryce Drew, who hit a buzzer-beater in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament to knock off fourth-seeded Mississippi.
South's Brock Jewson inbounded the ball to the frontcourt, where Cooper LePage leapt and tipped the ball to Jain, who fired a 3. Jain's shot missed, but he was fouled, giving the Gators a shot at overtime.
"It was a great pass by Coop, it was a great pass by Brock to get it up the floor," Jain said. "I want the ball in my hands. I'm happy (coach LePage) called that play for me. I just have to make those free throws, it's as simple as that. I have to have that clutch gene and make those free throws."
As his teammates headed home after the postgame meeting, Jain was alone at the same basket shooting more free throws.
South (0-3) hit six 3s in the first half -- with two each for Jain, Jaden Womack and Zach Peltz -- and led, 32-22, at halftime. Grayslake Central opened the second half with a 10-0 run to tie and the score was tight the rest of the way.
Jain, who scored 16, hit a 3 with one minute to go, giving South a 50-48 lead. The Rams the tied it with 41 seconds remaining on Nathan Ulrichs' layup.
Cooper LePage, who scored 11, missed a one-and-bonus with 36 seconds to go and the Rams then called timeout with 8.3 left to set up their winning play.
"Sometimes you draw them up and they don't go as planned," Grayslake Central coach Brian Centella said. "Every once in a while you get lucky and they work out. We had all the confidence in the world that if Brendan got open he would knock it down. It was a little deeper than we had in mind, but he let it go with confidence."
Martinez scored 15 points to lead the Rams, eight of those came in the crucial third-quarter stretch. Amarion Coleman added 12.
Womack hit three 3s for his 9 points for South and Jewson added 8.
Matt LePage was confident with Jain on the line, and no time left, that the game was going to overtime.
"After he made the first two, yeah," LePage said. "Sometimes, that's the way the ball goes. We got tired (in the second half) and made mistakes on offense, then they're racing back scoring easy baskets. We played too well to give up that lead."