Blowouts are good for the nerves, Thom Sigel noted Friday.|
However, just like any boys' basketball coach, Rock Island's state title-winner learns so much more about his team in a thriller.
Case in point, the hosts outlasting state power Aurora West, 65-62, in the second-day nightcap of the Rock Island-Milan Booster Club Thanksgiving Classic.
Despite playing shorthanded, with four of their top 10 players missing because of injuries, the Rocks (3-0) rallied to win their second game of the day, assuring themselves of a shot at the tourney title tonight.
"These are the ones that you hope build character,'' Sigel said. "These are the ones you have to go through to actually learn how to win them.''
After leading until late in the fourth quarter, Rocky came back from a five-point deficit in the final 100 seconds, taking advantage of a missed one-and-one free-throw try by Aurora West (2-1) with 25.2 seconds showing.
That set up a wild finish, with Rocky's C.J. Carr hitting two charity tosses for a 61-60 edge -- after missing one for a tie on the previous possession -- and Aurora West's Jontrel Walker answering with a driving layup with 3.1 ticks remaining to retake the lead.
After a Rocky timeout, Carr raced to the baseline, but instead of looking for the inbound pass, planted in front of the Blackhawks' inbound defender Roland Griffin, and drew a foul.
Carr followed by hitting two more freebies to put the Rocks back in front, 63-62, and Raahsaan Brown sealed the deal after another timeout, stealing the inbound pass at midcourt leading to an emphatic celebratory dunk as time expired.
"Our kids had to make some plays down the stretch to win, and for us to do it this early in the season is something to build on,'' Sigel said.
"On the C.J. play, that's the first part of the design on the play. We spent about 5-10 minutes on it in our last practice on Tuesday. So we worked on it, and it paid off.
"On the inbound, that was just a good read, with `Chevy' playing centerfield for us, and he beat their guy to the ball.''
The victory left Rocky alone atop the tourney standings, with only tonight's 7:30 p.m. finale left against Chicago Bogan (1-1), which plays twice in today's final four games.
"Bogan's good, too, and the type of team that can give us trouble,'' Sigel said, dodging any championship talk. "So we'll see what we have left in the tank.''
After all, the Rocks' added Brian Richardson (hamstring injury) to its list of missing regulars earlier Saturday, during a 78-51 win over Chicago Tilden.
Keenan Shorter (knee), Jacobe Julien (knee) and Bryce Jones (groin) were already missing for this tournament.
"Our guards ended up logging a lot of minutes,'' Sigel said. "C.J. played all 32 minutes (Friday night).So I'm proud of the effort. We have a lot of things we need to get better at, but it's November, so we should. But we kept battling, and that's what I like about this group.
"We were in some tough situations, but we pretty much executed everything and responded well. That was a good early-season test for us. They have a lot of guys back from a super-sectional team, so they know how to win. But we stepped up and answered the bell.''
Carr (21), Brown (16), Trey Sigel (13) and Trae Babers (11) all scored in double figures against Aurora West.
Walker finished with a game-high 29 points, and 6-foot-7 Josh McAuley added game-bests in rebounds (10), assists (5), steals (3) and blocked shots (7) to 10 points.
"I know we're small and we'll struggle on the defensive boards,'' Coach Sigel said. "But that's just something we'll have to live with. We have to find ways to overcome that, and we did.''
Rocky 78, Tilden 51: With Richardson coming to the bench, the visiting Blue Devils whittled a 14-point Rocky pad to six points midway through the third quarter.
But that's when Coach Sigel called on his two most experienced players -- Carr and his son -- by saying from the sideline, "Step up. We need you.''
"I didn't want everybody to hear that necessarily. Not like the other guys didn't have to make plays, too,'' Coach Sigel said. "But we had only two starters on the court, and they hadn't played like they're capable of, probably because they're a little tired because our bench got shortened, but they did step up. That was nice and the other guys did their jobs.''
Indeed, the Rocks outscored their guests 21-5 to pull away to an even cushier pad early in the fourth quarter. Carr (16 points, 8 assists, 5 steals) and Trey Sigel (13 points, 5 assists) each had seven points in that game-deciding spurt.
Brown also finished with 12 points. Tilden's Allen Potts posted a game-high 20 points.
"Once we started doing some things, especially on the defensive end, that's when the game changed,'' Coach Sigel said. "We got some transition buckets, but more importantly we got stops, so we were able to extend the lead.''