Aurora Christian loses pair of heartbreakers at state, finishes 4th

CHAMPAIGN — After losing a 70-65 double overtime decision to West Central Thursday afternoon at the Class 1A state tournament semifinals at State Farm Center in Champaign, the Aurora Christian Eagles had two huge goals.

“We are not a team that looks backward, we look forward,” said Eagles coach Dan Beebe. “We are determined to leave here with third place and we are determined to be one of two Class 1A teams to end the year with a victory.”

Unfortunately for the Eagles, they came up barely short for a second time, dropping a 44-43 decision to Hope Academy Thursday night to finish fourth in state with a 25-10 record.

The semifinal came down to the last four minutes. West Central, running a full-court press, was able to score the only five points of the second overtime period. The Cougars (35-3) scored only one bucket, that on a baseline drive by Mason Berry at the 3:23 mark.

After that the Cougars slowed it down, passed methodically and looked for a sure thing. The Eagles eventually had to foul, and West Central hit three free throws in the final minute.

The Eagles were not unaccustomed to overtime games, including both their regional championship and supersectional victories to get to state.

Aurora Christian sophomore point guard Marshawn Cocroft, who was on the floor for all 40 minutes, bucketed 36 points, mostly using his speed and shooting ability.

“I was waiting for them to hedge,” said Cocroft, one of four sophomore starters. “The college court helped us a lot. We were doing some pick and roll. When they hedged, but not all the way, I started to hit some 3-pointers. They packed it in a little bit on us late in the game.”

Aurora Christian would lead at every break, until the end of regulation. But, no lead was more than one possession. The Eagles led 7-5 after one quarter, 20-18 at halftime and 37-34 after three quarters.

With 4:16 to play, the Eagles held a 45-41 lead as 6-foot-4 sophomore Asa Johnson strode to the line and hit two free throws. Less than 20 seconds later, the sophomore took a pass from Cocroft and drove to the bucket to hit a layup. No player was within three feet of Johnson.

Leading 49-41, the Eagles seemed to be pulling away. But the Cougars put on a full-court press and went to their man in the middle, Chance Little, who nearly matched Cocroft with 33 points including hitting 15 of 20 free throws. The Cougars scored 16 points in the final 3:45 of regulation to tie the game at 57, with the Eagles missing a potential game-winning 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

In the first overtime, the Eagles showed they were not about to go quietly, using their drives to the basket and 3-pointers to counter the inside game of the Cougars.

Jalen Carter and Cocroft kept pace as Carter, a sophomore forward, drained a 21-footer at 2:36. Cocroft would hit a trey of his own, once again from the top of the key, with 1:04 left in the first overtime.

In the final minute, the Eagles would trade buckets with West Central as Cocroft’s layup with 32 ticks left tied the score at 65 and sent the game into a second overtime after West Central misfired in the closing seconds.

“Our chemistry is top notch and it showed this afternoon,” said Beebe. “There are many, many teams that would love to be in our position. I am not an emotional guy, but I let out some after the supersectional. All of our athletes are mature beyond their years. These athletes are only sophomores in age. In maturity, they are much older.”

Carter had 13 points and Johnson 12 to join Cocroft in double figures. Carter also had eight rebounds, while Johnson and Cocroft each had six.

Zack Evans scored all 17 of his points in the second half and overtimes for the Cougars.

“When we put on that full-court press, I thought it might throw them off,” West Central coach Ryan Sichting said. “But I knew we had to do something different. Every team has a press-breaker, but that is really tough to execute late in the game.”

In the third-place loss, Aurora Christian led 14-11 after the first quarter but scored just 3 points in the second and 6 in the third. They shot 16 for 48 (33%) from the field and made 4 of 21 3s.

Cam Morel scored 13 points and Cocroft added 11.

  Aurora Christian’s Marshawn Cocroft, pictured at Monday’s Class 1A NIU supersectional win over Pecatonica, scored 36 points Thursday in a double overtime loss to West Central in the Class 1A state semifinals. John Starks/
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