By Jason Maholy
Chicago Christian was seven seconds away from winning its first regional championship since 2016.
The Knights had held Bowen without a field goal for nearly six minutes during a gritty fourth-quarter comeback in the title game of the Class 2A Julian Regional, so doing so for another few ticks certainly seemed possible, if not probable. Force the offensively challenged Boilermakers to inbound to one of their less-talented shooters, then trap him with a double team or contest the shot and, if it goes in, tip your cap to him.
Instead, Bowen got the ball to 6-foot-5 forward Juwaun Fullilove, who ran the lane, took the inbound in stride and in one motion went up for an uncontested layup to give the Boilers a 47-46 lead with 4.5 seconds on the clock. Bowen had just retaken the lead the Knights had fought so hard to get, and that would be the final score on Feb. 28.
The Knights entered the game winners of nine straight and 14 of their past 15 games.
Christian’s last-gasp shots failed to fall, leaving the Knights players stunned at what had just happened. Despite having led the game only three times – and being behind or tied for all but two minutes of the entire game – it seemed they were destined to advance to sectionals for the first time in four seasons.
Junior forward Tommy Schaaf had scored on a driving layup with 21 seconds left to put the Knights ahead 46-45. It was their first lead since a 4-3 advantage two minutes into the first quarter.
Officials whistled the Knights for a questionable foul on Bowen’s ensuing possession, but that wasn’t a terrible scenario, as the Boilers had gone 5-for-11 from the charity strip in the final quarter. In fact, it looked to be a blessing when Boilers junior forward
Nicholas Bouye missed both attempts; however, Bowen secured the rebound, giving them one last chance to get off a potential game-winning shot attempt.
They did, but the Knights batted the ball lout of bounds, setting up the fateful inbounds play.
Bowen, so lacking in offensive firepower and determined to limit Christian’s possessions that Boilers players on several occasions passed up taking open shots in the paint, did everything in its ability to muck up the game. The Bowen offense frequently held the ball for 30 to 40 seconds per possession, and on the other end employed an aggressive press that tried to throw the Knights out of sync.
It worked, to a degree. Bowen forced a few turnovers, but Christian wasn’t overly bothered by the press. The swarming Boilers did, however, make it difficult for Knights shooters to get good looks, particularly in the paint where their shots were heavily contested.
Bowen led 14-11 after one quarter, 24-21 after two and 33-30 after three.
Christian junior swingman Johnny Dieck hit a trey to open the fourth quarter, drawing the Knights even.
Bowen retook the lead and held it until the final minute. Christian countered the Boilers’ deliberately stalling offense by intentionally fouling their ball-handlers to put them in the bonus. The strategy paid off. As Bowen struggled to make its free throws, the Knights started hitting shots and turned what had been a 42-37 deficit with less than three minutes remaining into a 46-45 advantage.
Dieck, junior forwards Justin Lowe and Brady Loerop, and senior guard Brian Anderson all hit big shots during the comeback.
Bowen made only seven two-point field goals in the game, but they made the biggest when it mattered most.