By Patrick Z. McGavin
The state tournament is a different beast. Even the courts take on a magnified importance.
Seton coach Brandon Thomas played a shorter rotation than usual. It meant Mark Weems Jr. had an even greater role than normal. Weems responded in grand style.
The 6-2 junior guard scored a career-high 30 points that powered the Sting to a 62-55 victory over defending state champion Hales in a U-High Class 2A regional final at the University of Chicago Friday night.
We normally play a much deeper bench, but we press a lot, and playing on the bigger floor, we did not press, especially the kind of trapping defense we normally play, Thomas said. Mark usually plays about 19, 20 minutes a game. Tonight, he played 30 or 31.
Winner of five consecutive regional crowns, Seton (25-4) advances to play Herscher at the Tigers own sectional Wednesday night.
Thomas does not permit his players to talk to the media. Weems game spoke volumes.
The game often turned on a scintillating battle between top Catholic League guards, Weems and Hales 6-5 star Eddie Alcantara (23 points, nine rebounds, four steals, three assists).
Weems scored 16 points in the first half and Seton built an early 11-point lead in the second quarter. Alcantara responded by scoring 13 points in the first half. He nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key that pulled the Spartans (11-18) within 28-24 at the break.
Thomas is a protg of Hales coach Gary London. Weems outburst surprised London.
We knew he was a big part of what they do, but I knew he was capable of making shots, but not that many, London said.
Senior forward J.R. Tolliver added 11 points for the Sting. Junior guard Kamal Shasi contributed eight points and senior guard Jordan Foster scored seven.
Alcantara scored on a beautiful baseline drive and floater over 6-9 Russell Robinson Jr. that pulled the Spartans within 46-43. Weems, who scored nine points in the fourth quarter, put the game away with a three-point play off a Hales turnover that capped a 7-0 Seton run with 2:57 remaining.
Hales junior guard Shaquon Alexander hit four three-pointers in the second half in scoring 14 points for the Spartans. Senior forward Willie Allen scored eight points.
Hales converted just 3-11 from the free throw line in the second half.
Weve struggled with our free throw shooting the whole year, London said. Weve had some games where we got up to 80 percent, but you just cant shoot free throws like we did tonight, especially in the state playoffs.