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Westminster's Sam Carani (center) is surrounded by three Mooseheart defenders Wednesday in Elgin. | Michael R. Schmidt ~ For Sun-Times Media
Westminster Christian could take it as an ultimate sign of respect Wednesday, possibly even a moral victory, when a Mooseheart team of imports that included 7-foot-1, 6-10 and 6-7 players held the ball to kill clock and pull them out of their defense with six minutes remaining in the Class 1A Westminster Christian Regional.
Of course, the IHSA postseason tourney doesn’t revolve around moral victories and Mooseheart gradually expanded a 30-25 lead with 5:25 left in the game to a 45-30 semifinal victory to earn a championship game against Hinckley-Big Rock on Friday. The title game has been moved to Judson University in Elgin to accommodate a crowd that is expected to be larger than Westminster’s gym capacity.
“It was 30-25 and we were colder than an iceberg up to that point,” Westminster coach Bruce Firchau said. “We just make a few more shots. ...
“They’re really fortunate tonight. They got away with it because we had the looks and they just didn’t drop. It’s really disappointing.”
The Warriors made only 10-of-47 shots on the night (21 percent) and they made 8-of-32 from beyond the three-point line, which pretty much was where they had to conduct their offense going against Mooseheart’s 7-foot-1 Akim Nyang, 6-10 Makur Puou, 6-7 Mangisto Deng, and 6-4 Walli Sanni.
When 5-foot-8 freshman Dillon Rejman came off the bench in the first half and hit two three-pointers, it breathed some life into their chances as Mooseheart (20-5) had begun to pull away. But in the fourth quarter, with the Warriors down 30-25 and 4:25 left, it was Mooseheart that had the crucial three-pointer.
Deng drained a trey from the wing to start a 10-0 run in the course of 2½ minutes to put away the game. Puou put an exclamation point on the run with a three-point play and a slam dunk for the 40-25 lead.
“Any time you can hit a three when it’s a five-point game, that really kind of demoralizes a team,” Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. “I’m used to seeing a lot of threes getting drained on us. People are draining them from everywhere all the time on us, it seems.
“I’m getting tired of seeing other peoples’ threes go in. It was nice when one of ours went in — we don’t shoot them very often.”
Deng had all 12 of his points in the second half and Puou finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Hameed Odenewu, a 6-4 sophomore, scored nine points, while 7-1 Nyang had all eight of his points in the first half when Mooseheart jumped out to a 20-14 lead.
Ahrens gave credit to Westminster’s defensive game plan for keeping it close.
“That is a good game plan: double (team) Makur and box-and-one Mangisto,” he said. “And you know what, they’re going to make others beat you. And that’s what’s going to happen the rest of the season.”
Westminster, which got outrebounded by the NBA-sized team 41-15, had 13 points from Will Woodhouse and nine from Colin Brandon on three treys.
“I’m very proud of this team because they came a long way since Christmas time,” Firchau said of the 17-13 Warriors. “It certainly was enjoyable.
“I’m frustrated right now that we didn’t knock threes down, but that doesn’t mean I’m disappointed in my kids. I’m disappointed the shots didn’t go in. But it was a lot of fun to see them grow up. They gave a great effort.”