LANSING | For T.F. South senior Paul Pierce, it was a dramatic way to close out his final regular-season game with the Rebels basketball program.
Pierce hit a pair of free throws with nine seconds remaining in Friday night's game against Bremen to give the Rebels a 63-62 South Suburban Blue victory at home on senior night. The Rebels (15-11, 8-5 SSC) travel Tuesday to Homewood-Flossmoor for a 4A regional playoff game against Thornwood.
"It was nice tonight to win in front of our friends and family," Pierce said. "But we really played down to our competition."
Pierce, who has been with the Rebels' varsity team for three seasons, scored 15 points.
Rebels coach John O'Rourke exclusively played seniors for the first 10 minutes and liberally substituted players throughout the contest. The Rebels led by 13 points as they headed into the final quarter, but the Braves' 10-2 run to open the quarter quickly cut the lead to five points with five minutes to play.
The Rebels still held a five-point lead with 1:57 left after a steal and basket by senior Mychelle Bullock (17 points). But the Braves responded with free throws by Cedric Clemons (21 points) and a basket by Devonta Wilson to close the lead to one point with 55 seconds left in the game.
"We had to have a good time with senior night in front of friends and family," Bullock said. "But we kind of got sidetracked from playing our ballgame."
After a turnover by the Rebels, the Braves ran the clock down to 20 seconds before Clemons followed his own miss for an inside score to give the Braves a 62-61 lead. The Rebels quickly advanced the ball before Pierce was fouled by Clemons as he drove the lane. Though the Braves had no timeouts to use, the foul was Clemons' fifth. That bought Braves coach Brian Flaherty time to instruct his players for the final seconds of the game under the guise of deciding which of his players would replace Clemons.
The extended break in action also iced Pierce, who waited near the free-throw line to shoot the the baskets that eventually decided the outcome. Pierce had missed the front-end of a one-and-one free-throw situation just a minute earlier in the game.
"I shoot too many free throws to dwell on the misses," Pierce said.
The Braves (5-20, 1-12) had time to steal a victory in the final seconds, but a long jumper by sophomore guard Deon Jackson rimmed out.
"We played hard tonight, but we didn't box anybody out," Flaherty said of the loss. "That was frustrating, giving up so many second-chance points."
Flaherty and O'Rourke graduated from T.F. South and are friends. Friday was the third time they had coached against each other.
"I think it is fun that the kids know that we know each other," O'Rourke said. "It makes for a unique rivalry ... but I'm concerned going into the playoffs. I don't think we are playing to the best of our ability."