The adages about leaving a weaker opponent in for too long and how hard it is to beat a conference foe three times both held true Tuesday night.
Glenbard East managed to survive both against , but not before some heart-stopping drama.
The Rams eked out a 69-64 win against the Redhawks after blowing a nine-point lead to start the fourth quarter. The Rams (23-3), led by star guard Jonny Hill, were able to build sizable advantages midway through the first and second half.
The Redhawks (13-15), however, refused to give in. They went on a 10-0 run in the second quarter, taking advantage of Hill’s absence after he was hurt during a fast break to tie the game 26-26 with under a minute left. The Redhawks utilized sets and screens all night to great effect against the Rams’ defense.
“We were ready, we were prepared,” Redhawks coach Pete Kramer said. “Everybody that played played their role tonight.”
“Defensively we didn’t get in sync all game tonight,” Rams coach Scott Miller said.
The Redhawks and Rams traded baskets throughout the third quarter. Redhawks guard and leader David Niggins scored nine of his team-high 25 points in the third. Glenbard East countered with Hill adding eight of his career-high 34 points and seven more from wing man Scott Miller, who finished with 14.
Niggins and guard Nick Linne chipped away at the 51-42 Rams' lead, going after Glenbard East on offense and taking advantage of their poor free throw shooting to start the period.
The two players combined for 12 of the team’s 22 fourth-quarter points. Linne was able to tie the game 58-58 after grabbing his own rebound and making a layup after a missed free throw.
Forward Anthony Trainor gave the Redhawks a 62-61 lead, their first since early in the game, with a pair of free throws with 50 seconds left.
Hill, however, lived up to his reputation on the next possession. He hit a fade-away jumper while drawing the foul. He sank the free throw to give the Rams a two-point lead, 64-62. Glenbard East was able to put together a pair of stops and sank five out of six free throws in the closing seconds.
The Rams overcame their early fourth quarter free throw slump, shooting 15-of-22 as a team in the quarter.
“I give them credit. They played hard all four quarters,” Hill said. “Tonight was a good lesson for us going forward. We gotta go out and bury our opponents. Go for the jugular.”
Kramer remained positive about his team and the effort they displayed:
“They’re a great bunch of kids. They left it all on the floor tonight.”
The Rams will play the winner of Glenbard West and for the regional title Friday.