When Alan Aboona banked in a three-quarter shot at the halftime buzzer it looked as if St. Viator might have the last East Suburban Catholic Conference boys basketball laugh on St. Joseph.
But when the Lions couldn't cash in on a flurry of point-blank chances to extend a 5-point lead at the start of the third quarter it led to an all-too-familiar ending in the Chargers' final conference visit to Cahill Gymnasium in Arlington Heights.
St. Joseph (15-5, 9-0) broke out to an 11-point lead and then held off a late rally to win its 29th straight ESCC game 60-53.
"I thought we had them," Aboona said after scoring 16 of his team-high 24 points in the second quarter.
"I'm disappointed, but I thought we played well except for that one stretch," said Viator coach Joe Majkowski. "We played hard and we came and battled."
Which St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore expected and feared with his team coming off a 1-point loss Saturday to defending Class 4A state champion Whitney Young.
"They always play us tough (up here) and my kids don't believe it," said Pingatore, whose school is moving to the Chicago Catholic League next year. "We just didn't have any intensity. Give them credit, I knew they were going to be ready."
The Lions (16-6, 5-5) threw a 1-3-1 zone they just put into practice on Tuesday to fluster the Chargers.
And when Aboona capped a 12-point second quarter with his long bomb the Lions raced into the locker room with a 32-27 lead.
"It felt pretty good and right when I let it go I said, 'it's going in,'" Aboona said. "It was a good momentum swing."
But Viator got only a rebound basket by Chris Myjak (8 points, 6 rebounds) off its first 9 second-half shots. A personal 8-point run by Wayne Simon (25 points) put St. Joseph up 42-34.
"It kind of set the tone a little bit for the half," Aboona said. "We couldn't get any more good looks, we were turning the ball over (six in the third quarter) and they were getting what they wanted on offense.
"In the fourth quarter we really buckled down."
But 4 points was the closest the Lions could get on three occasions - the last on Aboona's 3-point play to make it 57-53 with 52.5 seconds left.