WOODSTOCK – Johnsburg had every reason to feel positive about its play in the first half against Burlington Central.
The Skyhawks had made seven 3-pointers, they had rebounded well, and their defense had been solid enough to earn a two-point lead by halftime.
Things felt different from the teams’ previous two meetings during the regular season.
“We were in great shape,” guard Zach Toussaint said. “That was the first time [in three games] we were leading [at halftime]. We needed to keep it going.”
The issue was maintaining that level of play against the Rockets, who Johnsburg fully expected to make a big run.
A few minutes into the third quarter, Burlington took a six-point lead when guard Zach Schutta hit a pair of 3s from the right side. Johnsburg could not catch them again.
Burlington defeated Johnsburg, 77-56, in their Class 3A Woodstock North Sectional semifinal Tuesday and will advance to the title game at 7 p.m. Friday. Boylan and St. Francis meet in the second semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“They caught fire,” Skyhawks forward Mason Sobiesk said. “It seemed like we couldn’t string some shots together, nothing was falling. We played hard on defense; it just wasn’t enough.”
The Skyhawks (19-13) saw their season end in a sectional for the first time since 2012, but drew some satisfaction with their play in the first half against a team that beat them by 26 and 16 points in the regular season while finishing 12-0 in the Kishwaukee River Conference.
Toussaint hit his third 3-pointer with 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter for 17 first-half points. Johnsburg led the Rockets (28-3) at halftime, 39-37.
“Just keep doing what we were doing,” forward Brody Frazier said about halftime. “We knew they were going to come out hot in the second half. Just try to keep doing what we were doing, but we couldn’t keep it up, I guess.”
Burlington did not use its customary full-court pressure against Toussaint. Johnsburg coach Mike Toussaint said it did not have much of an effect in the first two meetings.
But Rockets coach Brett Porto made one significant adjustment at halftime that helped turn things in his team’s favor. Forward Patrick Mayfield, who is 6-foot-4, guarded Zach Toussaint (6-0) in the second half. Guard Desjani Beamon (5-10) had him in the first half.
“This game more than in the previous two, [Zach Toussaint] made 3s on us,” Porto said. “Using Pat’s length, we were able to affect his shot and, for the most part, we were able to do that in the second half. He did a great job on Toussaint.”
Zach Toussaint finished with 23 points, six coming after halftime. When he did get by Mayfield, he still had problems.
“With his length and height, it’s hard to get a shot off over (Mayfield),” Zach Toussaint said. “Once I drove, they kind of collapsed. I was trying to drive for the floaters, but I felt like three guys were coming at me. I probably should have kicked it [out] more, looking back.”
Mayfield had not guarded Zach Toussaint in the previous games this season, but welcomed the challenge. He and Zach Toussaint worked out in the summer with Zac Boster from Pure Sweat Basketball.
“I wanted him,” Mayfield said. “I’m good friends with him, so I guard him in the summer. He’s a great player. Sometimes I was too close because I didn’t want him to shoot. And if you’re too far [off], he’ll shoot from the volleyball line.”
Mike Toussaint, Zach’s uncle, was proud of how his team played, particularly after a rough stretch in the first quarter.
“I was most proud that they made that run and got up on us, doubled us up (at 14-7), and I thought, ‘Here’s a chance for us, we can either bail or fight back,’ ” Mike Toussaint said. “We fought back and took the lead, that showed a lot of character.”
Sobiesk, who hit three 3s in the first half, expected the Skyhawks to recover.
“We kept reminding ourselves, ‘Seven points is nothing, it’s a game of runs,’ ” Sobiesk said. “It was digging deep and playing defense and making some shots.”
Zach Toussaint’s 10-footer with 2:50 remaining in the second quarter gave Johnsburg its biggest lead at 32-26. Sobiesk finished with 11 points; Frazier scored 10 and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
“They’re better than us, that’s what it comes down to,” Mike Toussaint said. “We played them well for three quarters. I can’t fault our guys. We ran out of gas in the third quarter. They made a run, and we didn’t have enough to come back like we did in the first half.”
Schutta hit five 3s and scored 25 for the Rockets. The 6-1 senior brought Rockets’ fans to their feet with a two-handed jam with 3:46 to go in the fourth. Mayfield added 23 points, and Will Hough scored 10.
STAR OF THE GAME
Zach Toussaint, Johnsburg, Jr., G
Toussaint scored 23 points, 17 in the first half, to lead the Skyhawks. He was 6 of 11 in the first half and made four 3-pointers as Johnsburg led, 39-37, at halftime.
7: 3-pointers Johnsburg made in its 39-point first half. The Skyhawks made only one in the second half.
AND ANOTHER THING...
Burlington Central guard Michael Kalusa, one of the Rockets’ best defenders with almost 90 steals on the season, had to sit out the game after receiving two technical fouls in Friday’s victory over Montini in the Aurora Central Catholic Regional championship. By IHSA rules, Kalusa can return for Friday’s sectional title game.
Burlington Central 77, Johnsburg 56
JOHNSBURG (56): Toussaint 8 3-4 23, Smith 1 1-2 4, Sobiesk 4 0-0 11, Frazier 4 2-3 10, Groves 0 0-0 0, Paprocki 2 0-0 4, Gutierrez 0 0-0 0, Rowe 1 0-0 2, Stern 1 0-0 2, Hess 0 0-0 0, Shelton 0 0-0 0, Benn 0 0-0 0, Muehlfelder 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 6-9 56.
BURLINGTON CENTRAL (77): Schutta 10 0-0 25, Beamon 2 0-5 5, Mayfield 8 6-6 23, Hough 4 1-2 10, Scott 2 1-2 5, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Lenschow 2 0-0 4, Moring 0 0-0 0, Anderson 0 0-0 0, Seyller 0 0-0 0, Pearson 1 0-0 3, Mutterties 0 0-0 0, Hudgens 1 0-0 2, Finstein 0 0-0 0. Totals: 30 8-14 77.
Johnsburg 18 21 10 7 – 56
Burlington Central 21 16 20 20 – 77
3-point goals: Johnsburg 8 (Toussaint 4, Sobiesk 3, Smith), Burlington Central 9 (Schutta 5, Beamon, Mayfield, Hough, Pearson). Total fouls: Johnsburg 12, Burlington Central 12.