CHICAGO HEIGHTS | For Tyler Ulis, it wasn't a matter of if, but when.
"I knew that if we were going to win this game, I had to step up," said Marian Catholic's star guard. "Good players take over games, so that's what I knew I had to do."
And did he ever.
The 5-foot, 10-inch junior scored 11 points in the fourth quarter as Marian ran away late for a 54-37 victory over Crete-Monee in the Spartans' own Class 4A Regional title game.
Ulis knocked down a perfect 9-of-9 free throws in the final period, quickly recovering from 3-of-9 shooting performance heading into the quarter. His outburst helped turn a 33-27 Marian lead that ended the third period into a 52-37 when he exited after his final two free throws with just over a minute to play in the contest.
He also set a school record with a free throw at the 5:05 mark, breaking Cedric Middleton's single-season scoring record (623). Ulis' game high 20 points put him at 630 for the season.
"I didn't even know the record was coming ... I wasn't focused on that," Ulis said. "It's great to get another accomplishment, but the bigger goal is the state championship, and this team knows that."
For a half though, Crete-Monee was determined to keep the state finals in Peoria out of Marian's sights.
Stellar defense by the Warriors held their opponents in check for the first 16 minutes. Marian (27-3) shot just 7-of-22 in the first half (31 percent), as Crete-Monee (19-9) led 10-6 after the first quarter and trailed just 19-16 at the break.
The Warriors carried their momentum temporarily into the third quarter, grabbing a 26-25 advantage on Mark Conner's layup with 4:02 left in the period. But things quickly unraveled for Crete-Monee.
Ki-Jana Crawford pulled the Spartans within one on a free throw before Joshua Cohn put Marian back on top with a steal and a layup just seconds later on Crete's next possession. The Warriors failed to recover, giving the ball away on it's next two trips, and Marian capitalized with buckets.
Ulis finished the 12-1 run with a pair of free throws to put his team ahead 37-27 with 7:04 remaining in the game.
"We played right along with them for a half, you can say that," Crete-Monee coach Tom Cappel said. "But they grabbed a little bit of a lead and just took off."
Crete-Monee was still within single digits with 5:05 to go when senior Marvie Keith lost control of the ball near the half court line. In an odd series of events, Keith opted not to pick up the ball, and Ulis quickly scooped it up and dropped in a layup as he was fouled. He converted the free throw to give Marian a 42-31 cushion with 4:20 remaining.
"I think our defense just stepped up to tonight when it needed to," Marian coach Mike Taylor said. "We kept Marvie Keith from doing too much damage, and we just have ourselves an opportunity to pull through.
"I'm very proud of our kids for the way they won as a team."
Terrone Parham had nine points for Marian, while Cohn added eight. Conner and LaQuon Treadwell paced Crete-Monee with 11 points apiece.