Boys basketball: Danny Thompson’s buzzer-beater sends Joliet Central into Class 4A regional finals

Steelmen will play second-seeded Marist in regional final Friday

Joliet Central's Danny Thompson

SOUTH HOLLAND – There’s feeling it. And then there’s whatever was happening to Joliet Central’s Danny Thompson on Wednesday night.

Thompson’s buzzer-beater lifted Joliet Central to a theatrical 61-58 victory over Lincoln-Way East in the semifinal round of the Class 4A Thornwood Regional. And although the junior guard was happy the shot went in, his performance in the second half left him little reason to doubt that it would.

“Coach told me to get open and get the ball,” Thompson said. “I got the ball and hit the shot. I knew it was going in.”

Tenth-seeded Joliet Central (19-11) will play second-seeded Marist, a 78-58 winner over Thornwood in Wednesday’s first semifinal. Tipoff at Thornwood is set for 7 p.m. Friday.

Lincoln-Way East closed its season with a 16-13 record.

Thompson finished with a career-high 30 points.

The final shot was Thompson’s fifth made field goal of the fourth quarter and the end of a flurry of action that saw him score 20 second-half points and seemingly be involved in every critical play down the stretch.

Thompson was particularly effective at the beginning of the fourth quarter, hitting two 3-pointers and another basket to push Joliet Central to a 51-42 lead with six minutes to play. But Lincoln-Way East wouldn’t fold, pushing all the way back with a 12-3 scoring run. Brenden Sanders knotted the score at 56 with 2:06 to play on a three-point play.

Who else but Thompson lifted Joliet Central into the lead with a lay-in at the one minute mark, but Jacob Alexander once again tied the score with a reverse lay-in with about 30 seconds to play.

Joliet Central would wind down the clock, but the Griffins had fouls to give, so they committed them in an attempt to get the Steelmen out of sync for the last-second shot. With about three seconds to play, Joliet Central inbounded the ball to Thompson about 20 feet from the basket, and with the Griffins unable to play the shot too aggressively for fear of fouling the shooter, Thompson found nothing but the bottom of the net.

“When we got the lead and they went into the man-to-man, we got a little complacent,” Joliet Central coach Larry Thompson Jr. said. “But during one of the timeoutsm coach [Dwayne] Edmon told them that they were a little too cool for me. This could be the end of their high school career, and they had to get a little charged up.

“We were able to take advantage of a little bit of our quickness and score some big baskets with Danny and Jaylin Murphy.”

The Steelmen surged early, stringing together 12 consecutive points at the end of the first quarter and stretching its lead into the double digits by piecing together another 6-0 run to start the second quarter.

Most of the run was fueled by success from the 3-point line. Joliet Central knocked down five of the long balls in the first 10 minutes of the contest, but after that early rush they went cold from the perimeter, not making another 3-pointer until the third quarter.

Lincoln-Way East pushed its way back into the game by piecing together a 14-4 scoring run to pull within one point at 28-27 late in the second quarter. Each team scored another basket before the break to send Joliet Central into halftime with a narrow 30-29 lead.

The win lifted Joliet Central into its first regional title game since 2018, where it will face a quality Marist team in Friday’s final. The Redhawks are 28-4 on the season after their win in the semifinal.

“This is great for the kids and their confidence has really gone up,” Thompson Jr. said. “But Marist is a whole different animal. But I’d rather be in the game than not be in the game.”

Sanders and B.J. Powell shared scoring honors for Lincoln-Way East with 15 points each.