LOCKPORT | T.F. North did not start Tuesday's game the way Tim Bankston envisioned.
Committing six turnovers in the first 5 minutes, 5 seconds, and trailing 8-5, was not in his game plan.
Joliet Central's 3-2 zone was giving the Meteors fits. It was difficult to get the ball inside, and, after a 3-pointer by D.J. Deere in the early going, the outside shot wasn't falling either.
Then the Meteors slowed the game down, looking for open shots. And open shots they found, while collapsing on any Steelman daring enough to go for the basket.
The result was a complete turnaround. T.F. North took control midway through the third quarter and sailed to a 48-38 win in its Class 4A regional semifinal at Lockport Township.
The Meteors (20-7) play Joliet West (18-7) in Friday's regional final, the winner advancing to the sectional at Thornton Township. The Tigers scored a 67-42 win against Rich Central (11-15) in the first semifinal game.
"The key was getting back to what we do best," T.F. North forward Nicholas Wood said. "We have to slow down. We were a little panicky at the start because it's the playoff, but we were able to calm down."
Wood was a major steadying factor. His eight points were complimented by 12 rebounds. Marquis Todd added 10 points and 10 boards before fouling out with 1:43 to play. Deere's 14 points led the Meteors, and Greg McClain's dozen all mattered.
For T.F. North, everything mattered.
"They didn't want to go home," Bankston said of Joliet Central. "They fought hard."
But T.F. North fought more smartly the longer the game went.
"The fouls my big kids had early took us out of what we wanted to do, offensively as well as defensively, but I thought my guards stepped up," Bankston said, "My little sophomore (sub Sadiq Salisu) and D.J. and Greg played an excellent floor game for us. Sometimes you've got to grind them out, and we're used to these type of games."
A pair of free throws by Coleman and a basket off a steal by McClain earned the Meteors a 31-26 lead midway through the third. From that point, it was a matter of maintaining the margin, and the Steelmen got as close as three points only once, on Jalen Heath's 3-pointer as the quarter ended. T.F. North hit 23-of-32 free throws, including 13-of-20 in the final quarter, to salt away the victory.