March Madness, indeed: Fenton advances past Lakes on Harnish’s buzzer-beater

As Damian Harnish released an 8-foot jump shot with under two seconds remaining in a Class 3A regional game Wednesday, the fans at Fenton High School went eerily quiet.

It was like the entire gym was taking one huge nervous breath.

When the ball splashed through — literally hitting nothing but net — Fenton's fans erupted and all of Harnish's teammates mobbed him at midcourt to celebrate a nerve-racking 41-39 victory over Lakes.

They were Harnish's only points of the game.

“I knew there was like two seconds left on the clock and we had one emergency shot to go,” Harnish said. “Honestly I just threw it up there — a little floater — saw it went in and I looked back at the time and it was 0:00. After that it was all of the emotions at once. I didn't even know what to feel honestly.”

The ball ended up in Harnish's hands after Alejandro Diaz rebounded a missed shot by Xavior Gonzalez and made an acrobatic pass to Harnish as he was falling out of bounds.

“(Diaz) saved the season,” said Gonzalez, who finished with 13 points, 3 rebounds and 2 steals.

“I'm so happy for Damian,” said Fenton coach Chaz Taft, whose team improved to 28-4 and will face Notre Dame, a 47-40 winner over Antioch on Wednesday, in the regional final at 7 p.m. Friday. “All year long he's been grinding it out, grinding it out and finding his niche.”

Of course, on the other side there was plenty of heartache for a Lakes squad that started the season 5-14 before rattling off nine wins in its last 11 contests. This game was a lot like the Eagles' season, too, as they fell behind 20-12 early in the second quarter before rallying to tie it 23-23. They also trailed 35-28 entering the fourth quarter.

Prodive Matumona-Nzama (10 points, 15 rebounds) was a big reason Lakes finished with a 34-15 rebounding advantage; James Kania (10 points) stuck a few clutch shots; and the fierce defense of LaMarr Pierce (10 points) and Jaden Jackson helped limit Fenton to 18-of-44 shooting.

“To take the four seed on their home court to a buzzer-beater, I told the guys in the locker room nothing to hang your head about,” Lakes coach Chris Snyder said.

Fenton's attacking 1-3-1 zone helped forced 7 turnovers in the first half, but Lakes settled down and committed just six more turnovers the rest of the way.

“There were a couple times (their lead) could have gotten extended out with their skill set,” Snyder said. “For our guys to bring it back in and have a chance, really proud of them.”

After Brandon Block gave Fenton a 39-36 lead, it was Pierce who drained a corner 3 to set the stage for the final dramatic moments.

Fenton took over with 92 seconds remaining, and Taft decided to hold the ball until the waning seconds. Gonzalez (13 points, 5 rebounds) got the ball outside the 3-point line, juked right and freed himself up for a 3. After the ball hit the back of the rim, Diaz corralled the ball with his right arm, jumped and threw a bounce pass to Harnish.

Harnish grabbed it and shot Fenton to victory.

“He missed the same shot against Glenbard East in double overtime,” Taft said of a game Fenton went on to lose in 3 OTs. “It might have been the same exact spot. Right in the paint. I'm glad he came back and won it for us. It's awesome.”

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