O'FALLON — Against all odds, the O'Fallon Panthers are regional champions.
Sophomore Darien McClain made two 3-pointers in the final 41 seconds Friday to spark the Panthers to a come-from-behind 44-42 victory over the Collinsville Kahoks in the title game of the Class 4A O'Fallon Regional.
The diminutive McClain, who stands just 5-foot-6, had no points entering the fourth quarter, but finished with seven as the fourth-seeded Panthers, who defeated top-seeded Belleville East on Tuesday, avenged two previous losses to No. 3 Collinsville.
"It was great," McClain said of his heroics. "My teammates put me in a spot where I could play to my potential. I didn't play well in the first 31 minutes, but my team let me pull it out in the last minute."
The Panthers (9-19), who finished tied for last in the Southwestern Conference -- Belleville East won the league -- will play league runner-up Edwardsville (27-2) in the Pekin Sectional at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Alton High.
Edwardsville defeated Alton 55-40 on Friday in the championship game of the Granite City Regional.
"You always say, 'Hey, once the regular season's over, everybody's 0-0 and you start over,'" O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson said. "You preach it to your kids and you hope they buy into it, and I think this year, this group has bought into it.
"This is a young group that's finally starting to jell. They're just playing so much tougher."
Sophomore Donovan Franklin led the Panthers with 13 points. Senior Todd Porter scored 12 points off the bench before fouling out in the final minute.
Collinsville, which led 41-37 with less than one minute to play, got 16 points and five 3-pointers from senior Falando Wilkinson, 11 points from senior Briley Kellison and eight points from sophomore Sean Davis.
Senior Chris Mathes, who had 26 points and seven 3-pointers Wednesday in a win over second-seeded Belleville West, scored just one point against O'Fallon and was 0-for-5 from the field.
"We gave the lead away," said Collinsville coach Darin Lee, whose team was 5-for-10 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. "We missed a few free throws when we needed them."
The Kahoks (13-18) appeared to be in good shape when Porter fouled out defending the 6-6 Davis in the paint.
Davis made one of two free throws to give Collinsville its 41-37 lead with 53.8 seconds left. That's when O'Fallon turned to McClain.
McClain's first 3-pointer trimmed the Panthers' deficit to 41-40 with 41 seconds left. Wilkinson made one of two free throws to put the Kahoks on top 42-40 with 29.8 seconds remaining.
The wide-open McClain then nailed his second 3-pointer while being fouled by Wilkinson. He made the ensuing free throw to complete the four-point play that put O'Fallon ahead for good at 44-42 with 20 seconds left.
"My teammates told me to keep shooting," McClain said. "They let me do it. This is great. Our whole team was confident, but nobody else was. This is a great moment."
But there remained plenty of drama.
Wilkinson shot an airball 3-pointer, but McClain stepped over the endline as he tried to gain possession, giving the Kahoks the ball with 8.8 seconds to play.
Mathes missed a short jumper, but Collinsville maintained ownership of the ball via the alternate-possession rule when it tied up O'Fallon with 3.6 seconds left.
McClain then stole the inbounds pass and was fouled by Kellison with 1.9 seconds on the clock. McClain missed the free throw, but Wilkinson's 65-foot heave was off the mark as O'Fallon fans spilled onto the court to celebrate.
Gibson credited McClain, who is the Panthers' leader in 3-pointers with 34.
"He hadn't done much and I kept telling him to hang in there," Gibson said. "We know what he can do. For 30, 31 minutes, he wasn't real good. But he was good when we needed him to be. He made two huge shots."
O'Fallon used a 10-0 run to take a 22-14 lead with 1:59 left in the second quarter, but Collinsville got within 22-19 at halftime.
Kellison and Wilkinson opened the third quarter with 3-pointers and sophomore Emondre Rickman added a basket to culminate a 13-0 surge that put Collinsville ahead 27-22 in the third quarter.
The lead swelled to 33-27 on Wilkinson's 3-pointer later in the period, but the Kahoks couldn't stand prosperity.
"When we were up four, I thought we were one rebound away (from winning)," Lee said. "You're up four with a minute to go, 50 seconds, you've got to think you've done what you need. To get outscored six points in the last minute ... It slipped away from us."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.