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Phillips played as though it was in the state championship game. Crane turned to its star young player to make the difference.
Crane sophomore guard Issaiah Hayes scored 28 points as the Cougars overcame an early deficit and withstood a late rally for a 55-54 victory in the championship of the Red-Blue Public League playoffs Thursday at South Shore International.
Phillips (15-17) was disqualified by the IHSA for the Class 3A state tournament after athletic director John Byrne scheduled one in-season tournament too many, mistakenly believing the postseason Public League tournament was exempted.
“We really wanted this game because we knew it was going to be our last game of the season,” Phillips coach Lawrence Briggs said.
Hayes and senior forward Courtney Thomas helped the Cougars (9-13) overcome the Wildcats’ smoldering start. Behind the coach’s son, Lawrence Briggs (10 points, five assists, two steals) and senior forward Tyre Washington (13 points, nine rebounds), Phillips led by as many as nine points in the first quarter.
Hayes went to work in the second quarter. He drilled two three-pointers and scored 11 points. “What happened was is that they had to start to guard [Crane senior forward] Courtney Thomas down on the block and that created a lot of space for Issaiah, and all of sudden, he just knocked down shot after shot,” Crane coach Kenny Pratt said.
Hayes’s drive and dish to Thomas for a thunderous dunk gave the Cougars their first lead with 2:19 to play in the second quarter. Thomas’ putback gave Crane a 28-27 lead at the break.
“It all started with the defense really,” Hayes said. “We started playing harder and getting stops and it gave us more chances to score.”
Thomas scored 12 points and added eight rebounds for the Cougars.
The volatile third quarter featured four lead changes and two ties. Junior Crane guard Timothy Triplett scored seven of his nine points in the last two minutes of the third quarter. His three-pointer broke a 40-40 tie and sparked the Cougars to a seven-point advantage (47-40) to start the fourth quarter.
Phillips’ offense started to stagnate. “They went to that 2-3 zone, and our offense just didn’t do a good job of attacking it,” Briggs said. “That was a good move by their coach.”
A Thomas free throw gave the Cougars their largest lead at eight points early in the fourth quarter. Crane survived despite a disastrous fourth quarter shooting performance at the free-throw line. They missed 10 of 13 attempts in the fourth quarter.
Senior guard Deoin Irvin staged the Wildcats’ comeback. He scored a team-leading 16 points. His three-pointer from the left baseline with 1:16 remaining pulled the Wilcats within 53-52. Phillips had a chance to take the lead after Crane missed two free throws but they were called for traveling.
Fortunately for the Cougars, Hayes went to the line with 16.2 seconds and converted both. Phillips had a final chance though their three-point attempt misfired. Washington tipped in the miss with 2.4 seconds to play. Triplett missed two free throws with 1.4 seconds to play, though Phillips was unable to grab the loose ball to make a final desperation attempt.
“It was a good game, but we just ran out of time,” Briggs said. “We needed one more minute.’’