FLOSSMOOR | Classes weren't in session Tuesday night, but Thornwood players picked up some valuable knowledge anyway.
What the Thunderbirds learned from watching the first Class 4A Homewood-Flossmoor Regional semifinal game was that favored teams shouldn't take anything for granted come playoff time. The host Vikings won the opener, but not before squandering an early double-digit lead and allowing Lincoln-Way East to hang around almost the entire way.
When Thornwood began in similar fashion against T.F. South, the Rebels were pretty much done. South didn't roll over, but it also could never issue much of a challenge to the T'birds, who emerged with a 75-53 victory.
Thornwood (21-6) meets H-F, a 58-37 winner over Lincoln-Way East, in Friday's championship contest. The Vikings (20-7) beat the T'birds by four points in both clubs' season opener.
Thornwood coach Paul Slavich planned to have his athletes throughly review tape of that previous game today, but he'd prefer that the T'birds repeat their Tuesday start, which featured them racing out to a 16-4 advantage behind three 3-pointers from Johnte Shannon and one by Darell Combs.
"I wish we could do that every game," Slavich said. "We had a lot of energy and it was nice to get that lead."
Nicer still was the ability to maintain it. When Justin Kennedy hit two free throws to extend Thornwood's edge to 23-13 early in the second period, the Rebels (15-12) never again got within single digits.
"During halftime, Coach Slavich told us to put our foots on their throat and close them out," T'birds center Khapri Alston said.
"I thought about that (opening) game," Combs said. "I didn't want to have one of those sloppy third quarters."
Actually, South did outscore Thornwood in that period, but only by one point as three consecutive Ira Crawford baskets spurred a 12-4 Rebels run during the quarter. Alston (22 points, 12 rebounds) netted the final bucket of the session, however, which gave the T'birds a 53-37 edge.
Thornwood's margin would have been larger had the team been more proficient at sinking free throws. The T'birds missed 19 in the game, but the Rebels were unable to make much headway because of it.
"Our kids battled, but we have to come ready to play," South coach John O'Rourke said. "We've had these starts where we come out slow, and mistakes you make against good teams become magnified."
A series of eight made foul shots down the stretch sealed the deal for the Vikings against Lincoln-Way East (13-15), although the latter was still within 41-37 about midway through the final quarter. H-F ended the game on a 17-0 run.
"We knew they weren't going to come over and give it to us," Vikings coach Jim McLaughlin said of the Griffins, who lost twice to H-F in the regular season. "I thought we played about two really good quarters of basketball, (but) we also made some really careless mistakes."