BLOOMINGTON -- Clutch plays carried the Rock Island boys' basketball team to uncharted territory.|
A lack of them kept the Rocks from extending the run.
The inability to finish at key times on the offense end coupled with defensive lapses ended Rocky's quest for a first. North Chicago exploited those miscues, handing the Rocks a 69-61 loss on Saturday night in their first-ever appearance in the State Farm Holiday Classic championship game at the Shirk Center.
"We were missing that clutch play," Rocky senior guard Brian Richardson said. "We just couldn't get that shot we needed."
Nor could the Rocks (11-3) get a defensive stop.
Trailing the entire second half, Rocky would get a basket or convert foul shots to stay close. Each time the Rocks rallied, North Chicago (14-1) would get a transition bucket or second-chance points.
In the fourth quarter, the Warhawks scored on all but seven possessions.
"We've got to get better at battling all the time," Rocky coach Thom Sigel said. "When you play good teams and have lapses, you're going to have a tough time winning."
There were stretches of offensive fortune for the Rocks, especially early in the fourth quarter. C.J. Carr's basket with 4:41 left capped a spurt that whittled an eight-point deficit to 52-48. After Timothy Dixon missed two fouls shots on the ensuing possession, Rocky then had a chance to pull within one possession.
However, the Rocks missed a shot, leading to an 8-0 North Chicago run over the next minute. JayQuan McCloud's 3-pointer from the left corner in the middle of the run proved to be the dagger the Warhawks needed.
"We had a lot of plays we took off," Carr said. "They took advantage. That's our fault."
Anytime the Rocks got close, North Chicago countered with a punch.
"They just handled our pressure well," Richardson said.
For the most part, Rocky handled the Warhawks' pressure and athleticism. But when it came time for a key basket or defensive stand, the Rocks could not finish.
Other than that one possession where they were down 52-48 midway through the fourth quarter, the Rocks never were closer to getting the lead.
"We were rushing too much," said Carr, who capped his all-tournament performance with 18 points and four assists. "Their pressure sped us up. We were playing their game instead of our game."
What hurt Rocky all night was the Warhawks' offensive rebounds. North Chicago grabbed 15 offensive boards, leading to 20 second-chance points.
"Way too many offensive rebounds," Richardson said.
And not enough clutch plays.
"They were good. They were fast," said Richardson, who had a team-high 24 points. "They just played well."
That kept Rocky, which lost senior forward Raahsaan Brown to a left ankle injury in the third quarter, from winning the tournament for the first time in 11 appearances.
"We missed out on a way better trophy than we're taking home," Richardson said. "But all in all, we played pretty well and learned a lot."
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