CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake Central’s Deonta Dungey heaved a corner 3-pointer, and Evan Cassell wiggled inside for a layup midway through the third quarter to give the Tigers their first lead since the final two minutes of the first half against Rockford Jefferson.
The Tigers held the top-seeded J-Hawks to 2-of-16 shooting in the second quarter on two 3-pointers, and continued to give Jefferson fits defensively in the second half, staying within a possession late into the fourth quarter.
For a moment, it appeared an upset was within Central’s grasp.
But back-to-back steals by MyQuion Garrett and Quillin Dixon led to quick points for the J-Hawks with less than two minutes remaining. Garrett, a 6-foot-4 forward, added two more of his game-high 18 points, including 16 in the second half, as part of a 6-0 run for the J-Hawks.
Jefferson made 7 of 9 free throws down the stretch and defeated Central, 52-42, to win the Class 4A Crystal Lake South Regional championship. Jefferson (25-6) faces Dundee-Crown – which upset Jacobs, 45-40, in the D-C Regional final – at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Jacobs Sectional semifinals.
Central’s defense, like it did against McHenry in the semifinals, helped keep the Tigers (17-11) within striking distance of Jefferson for the majority of the game, despite a significant shooting discrepancy.
Jefferson was 7 of 31 in the first half, and Central was 5 of 12.
“I was thrilled,” Tigers coach Rich Czeslawski said. “We held them to 15 points under their season average. It really just came down to a couple of bounces at the end that went their way. Up until 3 minutes to go, it was anybody’s ballgame. They showed why they’re the No. 1 seed.
“They wore us down a little bit at the end. It’s really a shame that the score ended up being 10 points, because that wasn’t the kind of game it was. That’s a one-possession game the whole way, and I just couldn’t be more proud of the guys for how hard they fought. That’s a heck of a team.”
Junior center Alex Timmerman and junior guard C.J. Lerum each had 13 points to lead Central. Timmerman also grabbed 12 rebounds in the loss.
Jefferson coach Todd Brannan came away impressed with Timmerman, using multiple defenders to slow down the 6-foot-8 center.
“We told our guys that we have to guard him with our entire team,” Brannan said. “It’s not a one-on-one matchup. I thought our help-side was tremendous. I though our pressure was good. He’s a load.”
Central turned the ball over just three times in the third quarter but threw it away four times over the final two minutes of the game. The Tigers also were called for an offensive foul with 39.9 seconds remaining that took away potential points.
Dungey had seven points for the Tigers, Colton Haviland had five points, and Cassell finished with four points. Terry Ford had 12 points and two 3s for Jefferson, and Dixon tossed in nine points.
Cassell and Will Welder both fouled out for the Tigers.
“We wanted that really bad,” Timmerman said. “We just had some dumb mistakes down on the other end that really hurt us. It’s not how we wanted to end it, but it’s only going to motivate us.”
The Tigers will return 12 of 15 varsity players next year, losing seniors Colton Haviland, Collin Freund and Cade Keenan.
Lerum said Friday’s loss will motivate them to come back and do something even bigger next year. Central, which won only two games two years ago, hasn’t won a regional championship since 2013.
“We just have to take care of the ball better in those situations, box out and no turnovers,” Lerum said. “I think we did good defensively, but down the stretch it just wasn’t enough. I think there will be some great stuff in the future for us, and next season starts tomorrow.”
Czeslawski praised his seniors for helping Central’s turnaround. The Tigers went 9-18 last year.
“It was hard. There’s a lot of guys hurting in the locker room,” Czeslawski said. “We get almost everybody back. There’s some excitement in there for the juniors about what they can become next year, but, right now, there’s a lot of love and respect for the seniors. They deserve it.”
STAR OF THE GAME
Alex Timmerman, Crystal Lake Central, jr., C
Timmerman tied teammate C.J. Lerum with a team-best 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting. He also grabbed 12 rebounds, finishing both regional games with a double-double.
12: Crystal Lake Central returns 12 of 15 varsity players next year.
AND ANOTHER THING ...
Central finished 17-11 after going 11-43 over the last two seasons.
Rockford Jefferson 52, Crystal Lake Central 42
Crystal Lake Central 7 11 13 11 – 42
Jefferson 11 8 14 19 – 52
CRYSTAL LAKE CENTRAL (42): Lerum 5 2-3 13, Timmerman 5 5-9 13, Dungey 2 2-2 2 7, Haviland 2 0-0 5, Cassell 2 0-0 4. Totals: 15 9-14 42.
JEFFERSON (52): Garrett 8 2-4 18, Williams 2 0-0 5, Powell 2 2-2 6, Ford 4 2-3 12, Dixon 2 4-4 9, Robinson 0 0-2 0, Dunner 1 0-0 2. Totals: 19 10-15 52.
3-point goals: CL Central 3 (Lerum, Dungey, Haviland), Jefferson 4 (Ford 2, Williams, Dixon). Total fouls: CL Central 18, Jefferson 15. Fouled out: Cassell (CLC), Welder (CLC).