COUNTRY CLUB HILLS | It had the makings of an upset.
T.F. South chasing second place in the South Suburban Blue. Hillcrest already with the conference title — its 26th straight, and seventh for coach Don Houston after 19 with Tom Cappel at the helm — in its pocket.
And the Rebels leading by three at halftime.
Then the Hawks came out flying in the third quarter, beginning with junior DeAngelo Isby's 3-pointer, tying the game. And following a basket by T.F. South's Ka-Ton Mays, a 9-0 Hillcrest run that expanded to 12-2, and effectively settled the score.
Hillcrest's 66-54 victory earned the Hawks a 12-1 record in the conference and a 19-6 mark entering the state tournament. T.F. South dropped to 12-14, 9-4 in the league, with coach John O'Rourke promising a pair of robust practices in advance of the Rebels' playoff opener against Providence Catholic at Plainfield Central on Tuesday.
The focus? Finishing.
"We need to understand that down the stretch, in game situations, we have to execute," O'Rourke said. "We have to control the tempo. Those two things. The second half, we were not as sharp as the first half."
The Hawks were sharp as a laser defensively and poured in 40 points as well, with Allen Jones and Taylor Adway scoring 17 and 13, respectively. George McDaniel's 10, of which 8 came after the break, also helped. And Hillcrest's fast hands created 14 T.F. South turnovers.
"We have to limit our mistakes and play as a team," the Rebels' Mays said.
Mays' nine points led the Rebels, but he wasn't around at the finish, fouling out with 4:05 to play.
"Some games, something has been missing," Mays said. "We have to play as a team. Shots weren't falling (in the second half), but you've got to look past that and play. Coach O told us to keep playing to the final buzzer."
T.F. South was seeking a second-place finish behind the Hawks, which is nearly as good as first, considering a generation of Hillcrest dominance of the SSC Blue, and SICA Central prior to that. Now, the Rebels are looking at a three-game losing streak going into March Madness.
"We'll figure it out by Tuesday," Mays said. "I believe in my teammates."