By Rick Armstrong
Can’t anybody here shoot a free throw?
That’s what many in the full house watching the Bolingbrook Class 4A Sectional final between West Aurora and Benet had to be wondering through three quarters of Friday’s epic defensive struggle that was finally won 42-38 by the Blackhawks.
It sends fourth seeded West (24-6) to Tuesday’s Hinsdale Central Supersectional for the second year in a row for a rematch with Proviso East.
When it counted, West made just enough free throws.
“I just relaxed myself. Coach always tells me to take a deep breath before I shoot a free throw and it will relax me,” said West senior guard Jayquan Lee (11 points), who made 7 of 9 in the final period to lead his team to the Elite Eight.
“After I started making them, everybody else did, too.”
Entering the final period, neither team had made more than 50 percent from the charity stripe, West at a meager 8 of 16 and the Redwings 5 of 11.
That line 15 feet from the basket was critical over those final eight minutes, when neither team made a field goal until 1:54 was left in the game on a baseline layup by Benet junior center Sean O’Mara.
Eddie Eshoo would later add a trey with 19 seconds remaining and that was it.
West Aurora had no field goals in the fourth quarter but outscored the Redwings 15-9, finishing 23 of 35 from the line for the game. They had 19 points on shots from the floor.
“It’s not how you get there, it’s whether you get there,” said West Aurora’s veteran coach Gordie Kerkman with a smile.
Fouled on a three-point attempt with 2:50 remaining, Lee canned all three and the Blackhawks hit 10 of 13 the rest of the way.
Benet had possession with 18 seconds to go, though, trailing 41-38 but threw the ball out of bounds with 6.7 seconds left. West senior center Josh McAuley made one of two free throws with 5.8 seconds left to seal it.
Until midway through the third quarter, much of the game’s focus was on the battle between the standout centers, 6-9 O’Mara and 6-7 McAuley of West. They ended up negating each other: O’Mara finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots while McAuley ended with 11 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks to go with three steals and two more deflections.
Both spent time on the bench in the second half with foul trouble, McAuley finishing with four, O’Mara three.
“The real battle was down there (in the post),” said Kerkman, “but I think our kids did an outstanding job on the perimeter. I think we pushed their offense out far enough to where when they had the ball out front it was quite a ways to throw the ball into the post.”
Jontrel Walker added 10 points for West while Benet’s second leading scorer was senior Pat McInerney with nine.
“I thought it was really a hardfought game,” said Benet coach Gene Heidkamp. “We struggled to score, both teams did because both teams played great defense. It was a struggle for both teams to score, especially in the fourth quarter. It was kind of a grind-it-out type of game.
“Unfortunately, on that last possession, down three we were looking for the best shot we could get and were hoping to get Sean (O’Mara) on the roll but they took away the options McInerney had. It wasn’t the way we wanted it to go but that is what it is.”