TINLEY PARK | After Wednesday's 4A Andrew Regional victory by Marian Catholic, Tyler Ulis explained the half-court shot that gave the Spartans the lead over Lockport by saying he had been practicing shots from that distance often as of late.
With the Spartans trailing by three points Friday against Andrew in the final seconds of the regional championship game, Ulis put up a half-court shot not more than a few feet from Wednesday's half-court second quarter buzzer beater. This time, the shot drew iron but fell away, as the Thunderbolts held on for a 28-25 victory at Andrew High School.
The regional title was the first for the Thunderbolts since 1990, and advanced them to the 4A Lockport Sectional, where they will face either Homewood-Flossmoor or Thornwood on Wednesday.
Ulis miss of the final, low-percentage shot encapsulated the shooting night the Spartans had, in general. The Spartans made 33 percent of their field goals in the first half and only one field goal in a four point, fourth quarter effort. The Spartans also made only one 3-point shot Friday, with Ulis missing three 3-point attempt in the final minute
"I thought we did a great job with our defense, but maybe they did a great job with their defense, as well," Spartans coach Mike Taylor said. "It was just disappointing that we couldn't find ways to score, and we just didn't get those dumb luck kind of breaks."
The Thunderbolts (24-2) won despite their own offensive struggles in a game dominated by the defenses. The Thunderbolts also made only one field goal in the deciding quarter, and made 7-of-21 free throws for the game. But the Thunderbolts kept the Spartans off the free line for most of the night, and managed to secure key rebounds to hang onto a slim lead they got in the final two minutes of the game.
Thunderbolt center Jubril Adekoya (13 points), missed a pair of free throws with the game tied at 25 and just 1:59 left in the contest. Thunderbolt forward Tyler Hook managed to get the rebound of the second miss, and was fouled attempting a putback.
Hook made one of his two free throws, giving the Thunderbolts a 26-25 lead. With less than a minute to go in the game, the Spartans John Oliver made his third block of the night, but Adekoya came up with the ball and was fouled going for a putback. The 6-foot-6 junior made one of his two free throws giving the Thunderbolts a 27-25 lead.
The Spartans (15-13), which Taylor said had slowed its offense for most of the evening due to early frontline foul trouble, ran the clock down to 25 seconds before Ulis attempted and missed a three-point shot. The ball somehow found its way out to the top of the circle and Ulis' hands, where he attempted another three-pointer with less than 10 seconds left in the game. Ulis missed again, and this time the rebound was grabbed by Thunderbolt Mike Bobek, who made 1-of-2 free throws to close out the scoring.
"It was just one of those nights when I just couldn't get anything to fall," said Ulis, who finished with five points. "They were sagging off, so really what they were giving me were the threes, and I usually hit them. Today, they just wouldn't fall."