MARENGO – Crystal Lake Central boys basketball coach Rich Czeslawski issued his players a stern challenge at halftime: stop playing scared.
“We were nervous in the first half,” Czeslawski said. “This was kind of the first big game we've really played in where I could see that they were nervous. And it showed. We talked about how our defensive intensity will get rid of the butterflies, and I thought that third quarter, we saw that defensive intensity come out."
The Tigers defense locked down Richmond-Burton's offense after the break, and 6-foot-9 junior center Alex Timmerman went to work, lighting up the scoreboard for a total of 24 points and 14 rebounds.
Central pulled away for a 56-39 victory, holding the Rockets to six points apiece in the third and fourth quarters, and the Tigers won their E.C. Nichols Holiday Classic semifinal game at Homer “Bill” Barry Gymnasium.
Central (8-4) will go for its first E.C. Nichols title against Marengo, which came back and beat Harvest Christian, 46-44, in the second semifinal. Richmond-Burton plays Harvest in the third-place game at at 6 p.m.
"We kept the intensity up, and we really focused on that," Tigers junior guard CJ Lerum said. "It really showed tonight on the defensive end and the offensive end. We lagged energy in the first half, but we really brought it up in the second half."
Lerum had 14 points to go with Timmerman's 24 and drained the Tigers' only two 3s of the game. Eight of his 14 came in the fourth quarter alone. Deonta Dungey tossed in eight points, and Evan Cassell added six for Central.
The Tigers trailed the Rockets, 27-23, at halftime, but outscored them 33-12 the rest of the way.
"Because we couldn't score, we had to extend a little more, opening up for the big kid (Timmerman)," R-B coach Brandon Creason said. "The more we spread out, the more open he was."
Central is playing in the tournament for the fourth year and this is the furthest they've ever gotten.
“We’ve taken our lumps here," Czeslawski said." One year we had our top four players hurt. Last year, we had about five sophomores. It’s been a work in progress.”
Richmond-Burton (6-5) was led by Jeff Jankowski with 12 points, Shane Byrne with 10 points, and Mark Marzahl with five points and a 3.
In the second semifinal, the host Indians (9-4) came all the way back from a 13-point deficit, outscoring Harvest Christian 28-21, in the second half. In the fourth, Marengo held an even bigger, 18-5, advantage.
The Indians turned the ball over 18 times in the first three quarters, but gave it up just once after.
"They kind of spread us out a little bit, and we were patient on the defensive end, which allowed us to get our bearings a little bit," Marengo coach Nate Wright said. "Everything was frantic, frantic, and then they slowed down. They missed a couple of short shots, and we started to knock some down on our end. And we started to finally take care of the ball."
Alex Schirmer did most of the scoring early for the Indians. The 6-foot-4 forward had a game-high 17 points and eight rebounds.
"For a while there, it was, 'Let's throw the ball off the thing hanging from the ceiling, and let Alex get the rebound and put it back in,'" Wright said. "If we didn't have him, it was going to get ugly."
While Schirmer provided a big chunk of the offense, it was Nick Wascher who came up with the game's biggest shot. The junior made his third 3-pointer with 2:00 remaining to give the Indians their first lead of the game at 44-42.
"I knew, in my previous possessions, I was in that exact same spot," Wascher said. "He closed down short each time. So I knew if I got it at that spot, I knew I could shoot it quick. Luckily, my teammates got me the ball, I came through there, and it went in."
The Indians trailed, 35-22, with 4:00 left in the third and outscored the Lions, 24-9, the final 12 minutes. The Lions couldn't get a shot off on their final two possessions with 19.5 seconds left.
Blaine Borhart added seven points, including five in the fourth quarter, for the Indians, Matt Fischer scored five points, and Brock Bertrand and Aidan Kirchner each had four.
Wascher finished with nine points on three 3s.
STAR OF THE GAME
Alex Timmerman, Crystal Lake Central, jr., C
Timmerman scored 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds in a 56-39 semifinal win against Richmond-Burton.
13: Marengo overcame a 13-point deficit in the third quarter to beat Harvest Christian, 46-44, in the second semifinal
AND ANOTHER THING …
Crystal Lake Central has never played for the E.C. Nichols championship. Marengo most recently won in 2014.
Crystal Lake Central 56, Richmond-Burton 39
Richmond-Burton 13 14 6 6 – 39
Crystal Lake Central 14 9 16 17 – 56
CRYSTAL LAKE CENTRAL (56): Cassell 3 0-0 6, Dungey 4 0-0 8, Haviland 1 0-0 2, Lerum 6 0-0 14, Timmerman 10 4-6 24, Revnew 1 0-0 2. Total: 25 4-6 56.
RICHMOND-BURTON (39): Jankowski 5 1-2 12, Uhwat 2 0-0 4, Townsend 1 0-0 2, Bailey 0 1-4 1, Byrne 4 2-2 10, Marzahl 2 0-0 5, Schmidt 1 0-0 2, Tasker 1 0-1 2, Bassett 0 1-2 1. Total: 16 5-11 39.
3-point goals: Crystal Lake Central 2 (Lerum), Richmond-Burton 2 (Jankowski, Marzahl).
Marengo 46, Harvest Christian 44
Harvest Christian 17 6 16 5 – 44
Marengo 7 11 10 18 – 46
HARVEST CHRISTIAN (44): Jones 2 0-0 5, Kasper 0 1-2 1, Davilla 4 0-0 8, Nohava 6 4-6 16, Boyce 1 0-0 3, Young 4 2-2 11. Total: 17 7-10 44.
MARENGO (46): Schirmer 8 1-3 17, Wascher 3 0-2 9, Kirchner 1 1-2 4, Bertrand 2 0-0 4, Borhart 2 3-4 7, Fischer 2 0-0 5. Total: 18 5-13 46.
3-point goals: Harvest Christian 3 (Jones, Boyce, Young), Marengo 5 (Wascher 3, Kirchner , Fischer).