PEORIA — After missing five straight free throws Friday, Madison junior Deontay Starnes suddenly couldn't miss.
Starnes hit his final three fouls shots, including two with 8.3 seconds remaining, as the Trojans advanced to the Class 1A state title game with a 51-50 semifinal victory over (Lanark) Eastland.
"They count on me to make these free throws, so I had to keep my confidence up," said Starnes, who scored seven of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and also converted a three-point play with 41.6 seconds to go. "Tyvon (Powers) had to talk to me, he told me to take my time so I did what he told me to do. I slowed down and made the free throws."
Those foul shots put Madison (21-11) in the state championship game for the first time since 1981, when the Trojans won the second of their two state titles.
They will face top-ranked (Mason City) Illini Central (27-5) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Peoria's Carver Arena. Illini Central handled Nokomis 52-38 Friday in the other semifinal.
Despite the earlier free-throw misses by Starnes, Powers had faith and confidence in his 6-foot-5 teammate. Starnes also grabbed nine rebounds.
"Before the free throws I told him to slow down and take his time, take a deep breath," Powers said. "I was confident he was going to make it. I knew he could make it and he knew he could make it."
Eastland (30-4) was working for the potential game-winning shot when Powers helped strip the ball from Cougars star Dalton Shaner.
"We knew (Shaner) was going to shoot the last shot," said Powers, the brother of Madison senior guard Marquis Borney. "They set a pick on my brother, so I knew I had to step in so he wouldn't score easily.
"He tried to split us, so I saw the ball and reached for it trying to get a jump ball."
Madison's Carvel Dixon wound up with the ball in his hands and the Trojans had reservations for the title game.
"I looked up and there was like five seconds left," said Shaner, who was eerily calm when bringing the ball upcourt trying to get the shot. "I was planning on just taking one more dribble and pulling up."
Borney led Madison with 18 points while Starnes had 15 and Powers had 14.
Powers hit four of his six shots, none bigger than a 3-pointer with two minutes remaining to give Madison a 45-44 lead.
"Everybody's looking to my brother to score, but he said he needs help so I guess I have to step up every game this weekend," Powers said.
Shaner topped Eastland with 19 points and Ty Hartman had 18.
Madison had to work hard to overcome 18 turnovers, especially since Eastland collected 15 points off of them. But the Trojans stuck with their high-pressure 2-3 zone defense to help frustrate the Cougars.
"I thought we won the game on the defensive end," Madison coach Jaime Cotto said. "That's been our calling card, rebounding and defense. We just turned the ball over way too much.
"They're a strong, good defensive team and at times we weren't strong with the ball."
Eastland's biggest lead of the day was six points and Madison's was five as neither could create any breathing room. Tight defense was the main reason as the teams were deadlocked at 24 at halftime, with Eastland carrying a 34-33 lead into the fourth quarter.
Madison had five straight turnovers to open the second half, but the Cougars were unable to build on their lead.
"I can't believe that (box score) says 18 turnovers, I felt like it was 30," Cotto said. "I don't know, that looks a little low for me."
Borney spent much of the third quarter on the bench with three fouls, but came back when Madison needed him down the stretch.
Borney's 3-pointer gave Madison an early 11-5 lead, but the Cougars responded with a 9-0 run that reached 13-2 before the Trojans recovered.
The teams traded baskets throughout much of the fourth quarter, but the 6-5, 235-pound Starnes put himself directly in Eastland's path to victory.
The big man knocked down his free throws and the Trojans were able to celebrate with their large and loud group of fans.
Cotto said he believed Starnes would make the free throws so much he didn't even give his team a backup plan in case he missed.
"That's all we kept on saying, 'We believe in you, we know you're going to make it,"' Cotto said. "We didn't even strategize what was going to happen if he missed. We just talked about what he was going to do when he made the two free throws.
"We established Big Boy (Starnes) inside early and then we go away from it I don't understand it. Then we went to him there at the end and he brought it home."