SOUTH HOLLAND | Miraculously, the ball found Rashaad Alexander.
"Thank you," he thought as he caught it. "Thank you, God."
A senior guard for Times No. 2 Thornwood, Alexander was already on his way back up to bank in what would be the winning basket in an improbable, 52-51 win Friday over Lincoln-Way Central. Alexander came from the high spot along the left side of the lane to corral teammate Chelby Frazier's missed free throw.
"I went right through the middle," Alexander said. "The ball hit the rim, I ran my fastest speed, the ball came my way, I got the layup."
The SouthWest Suburban Red-leading Thunderbirds (16-4, 9-0) got more than that while sneaking past the Knights (10-10, 3-6) to win for the seventh straight game.
"We got lucky," coach Paul Slavich said.
Thornwood was perhaps a little nonchalant, coming off a Tuesday overtime win at district rival Thornton. Inattentive on defense, the Thunderbirds let Brad Buss — the only Central player with a field goal for the game's first 20 minutes — torch them for 20 first-half points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
The 6-foot-6 swingman finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds, hitting 6-of-9 3-p0inters.
"We knew coming in he could play, he could shoot," Slavich said. "It was kind of like watching the radar screen — you know the thunderstorm is coming, but …"
Slavich also predicted a Thunderbirds let-down after the Thornton win.
"We talked about a hangover," he said. "I don't think our energy was there, or our focus.
"The guys have to understand everyone's coming to get us now."
Behind Bass, Central led by as many as six points, last with less than a minute left in the third quarter.
Two free throws from Kaliph Fagan (13 points) and a 3-pointer from Alexander (11 points) made trimmed the Central advantage to 39-38 heading into the final period. The lead was still one when Bass fouled out with 3:27 to play.
The lead changed hands five times the rest of the way. Each time Thornwood claimed it came on an Alexander bucket.
With 1:21 left, Alex Parks gave Central a 51-49 lead with a 3-pointer for the last of his 12 points. Over the next 77 seconds, Thornwood missed a 3-point attempt, Central a free throw and the teams committed two turnovers each.
After Central's missed free throw with 8.8 seconds left, a Knights player inexplicably fouled Frazier at the 4.1 mark. Frazier made the first free thow, and the second caromed to Alexander for the winner.
"Right in his hands," Slavich said. "Uncontested, wide-open for a layup.
"The ball bounced our way."