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Joliet West's Andre Hardy (25) with the plaque and team members after the win over T.F. North held at the Class 4A Lockport Regional Final and West won 40-37 at Lockport High School, ILL. on Friday March 01, 2013. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
When you’re involved in a heavyweight championship fight, you want the guy on your side who consistently delivers a knockout punch.
Joliet West 6-foot-2 senior Morris Dunnigan showed again Friday night why he is a special basketball player as the Tigers, the No. 4 seed in the Class 4A Thornton Sectional, rallied past No. 5 T.F. North 40-37 in the rugged championship game of the Lockport Regional.
“We did a great job on Dunnigan for three quarters and then he took over in the fourth quarter,” Meteors coach Tim Bankston said. “That’s what big-time players do.”
“T.F. North deserves a ton of credit,” West coach Luke Yaklich said. “Their defense was phenomenal (with Greg McClain hounding Dunnigan all night). We had to adjust and keep the ball in Morris’ hands or he never would have gotten any shots.”
Like all the Tigers, Dunnigan’s touch was erratic. West hit 12-of-44 shots (27.3 percent), which included 2-of-15 from three-point range. The Tigers, who will meet top-seed Marian Catholic in the sectional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Thornton, did not lead until 37-36 with 1:24 remaining.
Joliet West forced 11 turnovers in a fourth quarter in which T.F. North (20-8) scored four points after entering with a 33-28 lead.
“We know we can’t let our offense affect our defense,” West senior guard Carl Terrell said.
“We turned the ball over and we made 2-of-6 free throws in the fourth quarter,” Bankston said. “This really hurts.”
With 1:45 left, Dunnigan grabbed a defensive rebound, dribbled to the top of the key and fired in a three-pointer to tie it at 36. He grabbed a defensive rebound with 1:02 left and the score 37-37 and held the ball until a West timeout with 24 seconds remaining.
After the timeout, Dunnigan rifled a pass to junior guard Alias Roberts-Burnett for the decisive layup with 15 seconds left. Then he came up with a loose ball after two teammates shook it free, was fouled and hit an insurance free throw.
All in a night’s work.
Yaklich said West assistant coach Gary Sonneberg’s scouting report indicated the Meteors like to double-team out of a timeout. They did and Dunnigan spotted Roberts-Burnett for the big basket.
“M.J. (Dunnigan) was double-teamed up top,” Roberts-Burnett said. “I ran the baseline and he saw me open and kicked it to me.”
“Really, it came down to one possession and we missed a defensive rotation,” Bankston said.
McClain and Nicholas Wood led T.F. North with eight points.
Terrell and Brandon McCullum had six points each for West.
Lace up the gloves. It was that kind of night.