Boys Basketball: Eliseo Gonzalez heats up after halftime, rallies Morton past Willowbrook in WSC Gold thriller
By Matt Le Cren
CICERO – Morton senior guard Eliseo Gonzalez’s confidence was low in the first half against Willowbrook on Saturday.
It was a different story in the second half.
Gonzalez poured in all of his team-high 18 points after intermission, including the game-winning three-point play with 2.1 seconds remaining, to rally the host Mustangs to a 66-64 victory in a West Suburban Conference Gold Division thriller.
“I played bad in the first half,” Gonzalez said. “First half I didn’t have that much confidence.
“Second half I came out with more energy and my teammates hyped me up. They knew what I can do, so that extra confidence it gave me, it helped me pull through in the second half.”
Gonzalez shot 0-for-5 in the first half but drained four 3-pointers after the break. The last two tied the game at 53-53 and 59-59.
But it was Gonzalez’s lone two-point basket which made the difference. After Marquel Saleek scored on a tough driving layup to give Willowbrook (3-5, 1-1) a 64-63 lead with 11 seconds left, Morton coach Tony Martinucci chose not to call timeout.
Armoni Flowers immediately inbounded to Gonzalez, who raced up the right wing and knocked down a 17-foot jumper as he was fouled. He then made the ensuing free throw.
“That last layup (Saleek) hit, that was really tough, but our coach believes in us,” Gonzalez said. “He knows we’ll make the right play at the end of the day, and the last shot happened to go in.”
Martinucci was happy that Gonzalez followed directions on the play.
“That was a big shot, and he shot it with plenty of time to get the rebound,” Martinucci said. “There was still two seconds left.
“I said before that if we do it, just make sure you give us a chance to get the rebound.”
No rebound was necessary and the Warriors could not take advantage of the remaining two ticks. After both teams used timeouts, Willowbrook’s Noah Campbell got off a potential game-winning heave from midcourt, but the ball bounced off the backboard.
Martinucci said that Gonzalez never shoots well at the basket at the east end of Morton’s gym, but always lights up the one at the west end, which is the direction the Mustangs (3-3, 1-0) were shooting at in the second half. So he never hesitated.
“I saw a lane,” Gonzalez said. “No one was in front of me, so I ran it up as fast as I could.
“Everyone was cheering in the stands. It felt awesome.”
Gonzalez’s clutch shot capped a remarkable comeback for Morton, which trailed 32-21 late in the second quarter after an 11-0 run by Willowbrook. The Warriors still led by eight early in the fourth quarter, but the Mustangs tallied 29 points in the final frame, 11 by Gonzalez.
The result negated a great effort from Saleek, who had a game-high 24 points to go with five rebounds and five steals. Saleek made all 12 of his free-throw attempts and the Warriors were 21 of 23 from the line overall. Alex Simmons added 12 points and Terrell Walker 11 in defeat
Morton had five players score in double figures. Guard Adrian Anderson amassed 14 points, five assists and five steals, while center Jamari Ball had 13 points and Flowers and Dakari Durham both tallied 10 points. Durham chipped in a game-high nine rebounds.
“That was the best game Adrian played,” Martinucci said. “He kept us in the game early and obviously the big kids on the boards helped.”