Boys basketball: Homewood-Flossmoor fends off upset-minded Joliet West in Class 4A sectional semifinal

Tigers force overtime but can’t close out win

Joliet West's Justus Mcnair drives to the basket for a layup during the Class 4A sectional semifinal against Homewood Flossmoor at Rich Township on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, at Richton Park. (Dean Reid for Shaw Local News Network)

RICHTON PARK – Joliet West entered Tuesday’s Class 4A Rich Township Sectional semifinal game as a significant underdog against highly-touted Homewood-Flossmoor.

The Tigers, however, erased any perceived gap between the two programs before the Vikings, ranked second in Class 4A, escaped for a 68-66 victory in overtime.

“You can’t ask for anything better. Unfortunately, when you get to this time somebody has to win, somebody has to lose. We were on the wrong side of the result, but I can’t be more proud of our team,” Joliet West coach Jeremy Krieger said. “And respect goes to H-F. They took care of business in crunch time, their big-time players made the big-time plays to give them comfort in overtime.”

Homewood-Flossmoor (29-4) will play the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between Bloom and Marist at 6 p.m. Friday for the sectional title. Joliet West, which had won nine straight games, closes its season 21-10.

Joliet West's Aamir Shannon in action during the Class 4A sectional semifinal against Homewood Flossmoor at Rich Township on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, at Richton Park. (Dean Reid for Shaw Local News Network)

The outcome was very much in doubt as regulation came to a close. After Homewood-Flossmoor went on a 7-2 run to close the third quarter, the Vikings took a 51-46 lead into the final quarter.

But a basket from Zion Gross and a 3-pointer from Justus McNair immediately knotted the game at 51 with 6:51 to play.

Then the chess match began.

The lead changed hands five times with neither team able to build a lead larger than two points with Carson Brownfield’s three-point play giving the Vikings a 58-56 lead with 3:09 left. Then both teams locked down defensively and didn’t allow a single point as H-F tried to run clock.

Joliet West's Zion Gross in action  during the Class 4A sectional semifinal at Rich Township against Homewood Flossmoor on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, at Richton Park. (Dean Reid for Shaw Local News Network)

But the Vikings turned the ball over with 34 seconds to play, giving the Tigers an opportunity to tie or win the game. McNair drove to the basket and put up a 12-footer that was off the mark, but he scrapped for the rebound and scored the putback to tie the game with just over 2 seconds to play.

“If his middle name wasn’t Wayne like his dad it would be Resilient,” Kreiger said of McNair. “That’s just who he is. He’s resilient.”

H-F’s last second heave was nowhere near the mark and forced the game into overtime. H-F wasted no time taking control in the extra period as the Vikings standout guard Gianni Cobb quickly scored the first four points of overtime.

McNair cut it to a two-point lead on a bucket, but H-F’s Mac Hagemaster (13 points, 11 rebounds) scored and was fouled. He wouldn’t make the free throw, but once again the Vikings had a two-possession lead.

Joliet West wouldn’t possess the ball again with an opportunity to tie the game with one score.

The wind was unofficially taken out of the Tigers sails at the 1:14 mark of overtime as McNair, a Valparaiso recruit, picked up his fifth foul and left the game with a game-high 26 points. McNair battled foul trouble for most of the contest, but as always was impactful when he did see the court.

“There’s always what ifs, what could we have done? The free throws, the missed box-outs, missed layups,” McNair said. “But we were close the whole game, and I’m proud of my team. We fought. No matter what. We just didn’t pull off the win.”

Gross also finished with 20 points for Joliet West.

With the loss still stinging, Kreiger couldn’t help but point out all his team had accomplished.

“Coming into the season, if you would have asked me would we be playing in a sectional semifinal against the No. 1 seed I would have said I don’t know, but I believed it was possible,” Kreiger said. “But to see us fight back and get Justus to get that put back to at least see an overtime period, that’s Tiger pride.”