West Aurora boys basketball coach Gordie Kerkman set up a detailed play in a timeout with 36 seconds left trailing Oswewgo, the sectional's top seed, by a point.
The play involved three options. As Kerkman said in the locker room afterward, "we never got that far."
The Blackhawks needed only one option, Spencer Thomas passing to Josh McAuley, who slammed home a right-handed dunk with 22 seconds left for a 61-60 win over Oswego in Wednesday's Class 4A Bolingbrook sectional semifinal.
Oswego hustled downcourt and the 6-foot-7 McAuley swatted Miles Simelton's chance at the game-winner out of bounds.
Oswego coach Kevin Schnable took time with 9.7 second left and the Panthers missed on two chances -- Simelton's 3-pointer and Jamaal Richardson's putback that rolled around and out -- before West Aurora's Jayquan Lee grabbed the final rebound to send the No. 4 seeded Blackhawks into Friday's sectional final against Thursday's winner between No. 2 Benet and No. 3 Neuqua Valley.
The buzz at Bolingbrook was this was one of the best sectional games people had seen.
"It's big," said McAuley, who scored 14 points with 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, several altered shots and a pair of two-hand slams each on Thomas assists.
"I mean, we had a lot of doubters saying we weren't going to win, so we knew we just had to overcome everything," McAuley said. "We had to overcome and win the game. That's what we went out there and set our goals on, that's what we did. We had to move on."
Before West Aurora (23-6) set its sight on contending for a second straight sectional title and 20th overall, the Blackhawks had to be on the right side of a fourth quarter featuring eight lead changes and four ties in the last 5:03 alone.
After sophomore Roland Griffin -- going from eighth man to impact player -- put the Blackhawks up 54-53 on his second straight basket, a quick drive and lefty layup, Oswego (28-3) answered with a 3 from its own soph, Zach West.
West Aurora senior guard Jontrel Walker, who scored a team-high 19 points, converted a three-point play to again wrest a lead. He said he got the call against former AAU teammate Richardson.
"Jayquan made the right call at the right time, went back door," Walker said. "I just made sure I stood (Richardson) up as best as I can as strong as he is and just finished it, playing through the contact.
"That's part of the execution, it's also a play that we run at times like that. When they're overplaying a lot, we just look to go back door. We just have so many different options, it doesn't matter what they do."
The lead swung back and forth -- a Simelton drive, Griffin's assist to Thomas alone in the paint and a pair of Simelton free throws to give the Panthers a 60-59 lead with 41.5 seconds left.
"What a great game," Oswego coach Kevin Schnable said. "It's not saying goodbye to the game that hurts, it's saying goodbye to our seniors. It's been a fun run. Our program is going to miss those kids."
Except for 11-point scorer West, each of the eight players Schnable used were seniors, including the highly regarded backcourt of Simelton and Elliott McGaughy, who scored 16 and 20 points, respectively.
They and Darion Reddick paced a perimeter assault that in the first half shied away from attacking McAuley inside, instead taking 19 of 29 shots from 3-point range. Oswego made 10 threes in the game, but shot 19 of 59 overall.
West Aurora, with Spencer Thomas scoring 8 of his 10 points in the first half, earned a 26-22 halftime lead.
"Defensively we were playing very good," Kerkman said. "You hold Oswego to 22 points in a half, you've done something."
A third-quarter 8-2 run on the Thomas-to-McAuley dunk combo, a Thomas steal and Walker transition lay-in, and a McAuley jumper gave West Aurora a 38-32 midway through the quarter.
"We tried to use the pick and roll to our advantage," McAuley said. "And every time we ran it, it was basically open. Every time I got a dunk out of it."
Oswego's West and Simelton led the charge back to enter the fourth with West Aurora leading 46-42.
"Four of the starters, this is their third year," Walker said. "We've been here before, we've been down, we've been up, so we just know how to keep it going and play defense, just stay mentally strong."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.