PONTIAC – 8 a.m. comes early.
But the Gurnee Warren boys basketball team is used to that time, and it showed.
Nate Harris scored a huge four-point play in overtime as the Blue Devils fought off Plainfield North, 55-53, in a game that was close throughout Wednesday in the 8 a.m. opening consolation bracket game at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.
Warren (7-3) played Peoria Manual, a 68-67 winner over Lockport, late Wednesday to see who would advance to the consolation championship game, which is slated for 4 p.m. Thursday.
“Nobody was happy with the way we played in the opening round,” Warren coach Jon Jasnoch said of his team’s 81-55 loss to Oak Park-River Forest on Tuesday. “We were determined to show that we were better than that.
“We’ve had plenty of 8 a.m. practices. That’s our slotted time on Saturdays and some other days. So our guys were ready to play. We had a scheduled 6 a.m. wake-up call, and everyone was already up and took care of all the little things.”
The game was close throughout, with 10 ties and 15 lead changes, including seven lead changes in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Blue Devils led, 48-45, after Harris, a senior guard who finished with 13 points, hit a pair of free throws with 30.5 seconds left in regulation.
Plainfield North (4-9) missed a 3-pointer and had the ball go out of bounds off Warren. After a timeout with 11.5 seconds left, the Tigers missed a pair of 3-pointers but got the rebound each time and whipped the ball around to junior forward Drew Czarnik (seven points), who just beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer from the left corner to tie the score at 48.
“That will be a good memory for Drew and the guys to hit that shot and have the game go into overtime,” Plainfield North coach Bob Krahulik said. “But we could never get that five- or six-point lead. We’d have a lack of communication or have a mental lapse.”
Because of COVID-19, there wasn’t a tournament in 2020. So this was the second straight season that the Tigers went 0-2 at Pontiac and also the second straight season they lost their last tourney game in heartbreaking fashion, as they lost, 54-53, on a 3-pointer at the buzzer to Lockport in 2019.
“It’s been frustrating, and our record doesn’t indicate the type of game we can play,” Krahulik said. “We just have to focus on the positives and get better.”
Things looked positive for Plainfield North to start the overtime, as a layup by sophomore swing player Jeffrey Fleming (13 points, 11 rebounds) made it 51-48 with 1:31 to play in the extra session. But enter Harris, who drained a 3-pointer from the right baseline as he was knocked to the ground. He calmly got up and sank the free throw to give the Blue Devils the lead for good.
“It was just a really good feeling,” Harris said of the play. “We set a triangle screen for the 3-pointer, and to hit that gave me and the team a lot of confidence.
“It was great to bounce back from [Tuesday] for this win. Going forward, it will give us a lot of confidence.”
In the final 32.6 seconds, senior guard Gavin Cartwright (seven points) sandwiched hitting 3 of 4 free throws around a pair from Tigers junior guard Demir Ashiru (13 points, five assists) to put Warren ahead, 55-53. Plainfield North called a pair of timeouts with 4.7 seconds to play to set up the last shot, but the Blue Devils played good defense, and a wild 28-foot attempt at the buzzer went off the left side of the backboard.
A pair of senior guards led their respective teams in scoring. Andrew Dolan had a game-high 18 points for Warren while Mason Delaney tallied 16 for the Tigers.
Plainfield North led, 11-10, after the first quarter but Warren went on a 10-3 run to end the first half with a 25-21 lead. The Blue Devils led, 30-25, with 4:50 to play in the third quarter, the largest lead by either team in the game.
It was 37-all after three. Plainfield North had its largest lead at 45-41 on a short shot in the lane by Czarnik with 2:14 left in regulation. But the Blue Devils, who also received 10 points and eight rebounds from junior forward Adam Panek, scored the next seven points.
“We played eight guys ,and everyone contributed,” Jasnoch said. “The guys trusted each other out there, and that showed on what we did on the defensive end of overtime.”