BURLINGTON – Burlington Central’s fourth quarter rally fell short Monday afternoon in a 49-44 loss to Lyons Township in the MLK Tournament championship game on Rocket Hill.
Trailing Lyons, 39-30, with 6:18 left to play, the Rockets went on a 12-6 run to narrow the gap to 45-42 with 1:10 left on the clock. Central’s hopes of a game-tying 3-pointer were dashed when Billy Bach converted two free throws to widen Lyons lead back to five.
Once again, with 10 ticks left on the scoreboard, the Rockets pulled within 47-44 on an Andrew Scharnowski putback. But once again, Bach came through at the free throw line, sinking two more shots to finish off the Lions win.
The loss snapped a 12-game winning streak for the 17-3 Rockets.
The Rockets will need to bounce back quickly as they host Fox Valley Conference rival Crystal Lake South on Tuesday.
Central jumped out to an 18-14 lead after the first quarter Monday.
Starting in the second quarter, Lyons’ suffocating man-to-man defense made it difficult for the Rockets to work the ball inside and their outside shots were not falling.
“Their defense was excellent, and they pushed us off some spots,” Central coach Brett Porto said. “They are big and fast, and sometimes that makes your shot get off a little bit quicker and it’s a little bit tougher around the rim.”
“I think the guys did a really good job of getting their feet underneath them after the first couple of minutes and getting things under control. They played solid defense all game,” Lyons coach Tom Sloan said. “That was really the key – our defense and our rebounding. We gave up a few offensive rebounds, but we got enough that it made it difficult for them to score.”
Lyons (16-3) took the lead halfway through the second quarter on a Tavari Johnson layup. The Lions’ senior guard and Akron recruit scored a team-high 14 points.
Central was held scoreless for the first seven minutes of the second quarter. Zac Schmidt, who scored 10 points for the game, scored the only Rockets points of the period with a basket and a free throw and the Rockets trailed, 25-21, at the half.
The Rockets also were held to seven points in the third quarter and trailed, 35-28, at the start of the fourth quarter.
“The guys did a good job of trying to take away their strengths and force them to have a guy whose strength is not shooting a perimeter shot thinking about shooting it and then blocking it out and rebounding,” Sloan said.
Central finally found its range in the last eight minutes. Scharnowski’s 3-pointer from the left wing with 6:01 left on the clock reignited the Rockets’ offense. The junior finished with 10 points. Gavin Sarvis scored five of his game-high 18 points during the comeback attempt.
Central also struggled at the free-throw line, converting only 12 of 17 attempts, while Lyons made 14 of 16.
“Games like that often come down to free throws, and they were better at the free-throw line than we were,” Porto said.
Extra work on free-throw shooting paid off for Bach.
“I’ve been somewhat struggling this season [with free throws], and I’ve been getting in the gym and working on them,” Bach said. “I was really locked in today and was able to knock them down.”
Niklas Polonowski scored eight points for Lyons.
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