CHAMPAIGN – Owen Freeman went nearly three quarters without a made field goal, and the 6-foot-10 Iowa recruit even had to run to the locker room for a fresh jersey after he ripped his No. 32.
It was that kind of game.
Moline bolted out to an 11-point lead on Downers Grove North over the game’s first four minutes behind the hot shooting of Iowa commit Brock Harding.
And then the Maroons slogged out a 50-36 win in a Class 4A state semifinal at State Farm Center that featured little offense for a large stretch of the second half.
Moline (34-3), which advanced to face Benet on Saturday night for its first state title, went 13 minutes without a made field goal in a stretch spanning the second and third quarters. The teams combined for nine points in a slow-paced third quarter.
The Maroons at times milked clock to maintain their lead. And they did, much to the satisfaction of coach Sean Taylor.
“Ugly is in the eyes of the beholder. I thought we were guarding them like crazy, and rebounding,” Taylor said. “I thought it was a beautiful thing.
“They are good. They are physical, scrappy and gritty. We didn’t let them get a significant run.”
Downers Grove North (32-4), making its first state appearance, closed to within 28-22 at halftime after a rough start.
The Trojans held Moline to just two free throws over the first seven minutes of the third quarter, but could not draw closer than three.
Finn Kramper’s two free throws closed Downers Grove North to within 30-27 with 2:06 left in the third quarter, and the Trojans had a possession to get closer.
But Freeman turned a steal at half-court into a dunk for his only field goal of the game.
“We held them to four points in the third quarter, and that was our opportunity to crawl back in,” Downers Grove North coach Jim Thomas said. “We couldn’t get into some of the series we like to get into. They play good defense. We struggled mightily on offense.”
Indeed, Jack Stanton scored a team-high 19 points for Downers Grove North and shot 7 for 16. But the Trojans, who hit 11 3s in Monday’s supersectional win over Kenwood, were just 6 for 25 from beyond the arc.
“I think we just weren’t hitting today. It was just an off shooting day for us,” Stanton said. “It was tough seeing their shots go in and ours not.”
Harding couldn’t miss early.
He made three 3-pointers in the game’s first three minutes and scored 14 of his game-high 21 points in the first quarter. Even when he missed, he hit. Fouled on a 3-pointer, Harding made all three free throws for a 16-5 lead midway through the first quarter.
“Monday’s game, I think I shot eight 3s and hit one of them,” Harding said. “The whole week of practice people were telling me to shoot. I came out and let it go. The guys got me the ball where I needed it, and then it opened everything up.”
“His freshman year I gave him the car keys and said, ‘You’re driving us,’ and he’s driven us for four years,” Taylor said. “There is not a better point guard in the state than Brock.”
Moline, while attempting just 19 field goals, made a living at the free-throw line. The Maroons made 29 of 33, with a 33-5 edge on Downers Grove North in free-throw attempts.
“We have really good skills guys,” Taylor said. “We’re shooting 74% from the line this season. There may be teams more athletic than us, but we have skill guys.”
Four days after throwing down nine dunks against Oswego East, Freeman found life much more difficult against Downers Grove North posts Jake Reimer and George Wolkow.
Both Trojans’ bigs picked up three fouls in the first half, but they held Freeman to just four field-goal attempts. Freeman, who had nine points and eight rebounds, did make 7 of 8 free throws.
“We were trying to be physical, push him out as far as we could,” Thomas said. “Jake and George did a really good job. He’s just really good. He can catch it down there, and he’s so big and talented.”
Freeman indeed was a presence defensively with four blocks, and his height made drives to the basket difficult for Downers Grove North’s guards.
Max Haack and Wolkow each scored six points for Downers Grove North.
“He’s really good. He impacts the game on both sides of the ball,” Thomas said. “We sure didn’t score as many points as we would have liked to. You have nights like that from the perimeter.”