BELLEVILLE — O'Fallon High senior guard Naason Cook failed to score in the first four quarters Wednesday, but nailed four free throws in the overtime period.
Those foul shots came up huge in top-seeded O'Fallon's wild 70-68 victory over Collinsville at the Class 4A Belleville West Regional.
"He's as good a free throw shooter as we have," said O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson, who watched Cook --18-for-20 on the season before Wednesday -- hit four straight free throws in the final 40.2 seconds with the game on the line. "He barely touches rim. We were just hoping at the end to get it in his hands and he stepped up and delivered at the line."
A failure to deliver at the free-throw line likely cost the Collinsville Kahoks the game. The Kahoks (13-16) shot extremely well from 3-point range early and led favored O'Fallon 36-24 early in the third quarter.
But the Kahoks sank only eight of 15 free throws in the fourth quarter and failed to protect a 56-51 lead with 21.4 seconds remaining.
"We're still up five with 20 seconds (left)," Collinsville coach Darin Lee said. "You know they're going to make their run, we've just got to close the game. It was game over when you make them."
O'Fallon (16-12) will take on Belleville East (19-9) in the regional championship at 7 p.m. Friday. The teams split two close games, with East winning 52-51 and O'Fallon winning 56-51.
The top seed has had difficulty winning this regional, where the bottom seed has won the title in each of the last three years.
"Absolutely, it's a jinx," Gibson said of what he feels is the unlucky No. 1. "We got one win, but we've still got to get another one."
Trailing by five, O'Fallon got a big 3-pointer from Parker Roustio with 11.1 seconds remaining in regulation. Collinsville's Harrison Wethers missed two free throws with 10.2 seconds left and O'Fallon's Donovan Franklin hit a running floater to tie it with 1.3 seconds remaining.
"They were fortunate," Lee said. "They had some things go their way. We were up five with 20 seconds left."
The game moved to overtime and a quick 3-pointer by O'Fallon's Darien McClain helped set the tone. Collinsville got a 3-pointer from Anfirnee Wilkinson, but Franklin and Cook combined for nine points in the overtime and the Kahoks committed two late turnovers to help the Panthers avert the upset.
Franklin accounted for 19 of his 21 points in the second half while McClain and Chance Armstrong each finished with 15 points.
"(Earlier) Franklin and McClain were both back on their heels, they were settling for shots and they weren't able to get to the basket," Gibson said. "Finally in the second half they were able to get to the basket and that was big."
Collinsville got 18 points and five 3-pointers from Nic Gonet, 11 points from Emondre Rickman.
Despite missing 12 of their first 16 shots, the Kahoks trailed only 11-10 after the first quarter. Collinsville hit six of its next eight shots on the way to grabbing a 30-20 halftime lead.
Limiting O'Fallon to one shot on most possessions, Collinsville heated up from 3-point range in the second quarter. Brett Langley and Gonet fired in two threes each as the Kahoks built a 10-point cushion.
"We kind of had those jitters early and they didn't," Gibson said. "They'd already played a game and gotten a win and the first half it kind of showed. We were back on our heels and they were getting some things done."
O'Fallon dialed up the defensive pressure in the third quarter and it led to additional offense as the Panthers outscored the Kahoks 20-11 to cut Collinsville's lead to one.
"That was a big key to that third quarter," Gibson said. "We came up and got full-court pressure and forced them to shoot some quick shots they probably didn't want to shoot. We got a couple turnovers off it and got a few easy ones."