In a battle between teams that could reach the Class 3A state tournament, it took a while before either Althoff or Westchester St. Joseph could land the knockout blow.
It finally came off the fingertips of Joffery Brown on a turnaround jumper just ahead of the buzzer in double-overtime Saturday as St. Joseph edged Althoff 97-95 in a thriller at the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout.
The Chargers’ Nebraska recruit Glynn Watson scored an incredible 23 of his 38 points after the third quarter ended. Althoff sophomore Jordan Goodwin also had a monster game with 31 points and 15 rebounds while Tarkus Fergsuon had 25 points and Brendon Gooch had 24.
The teams were tied at No. 4 in the 3A state rankings this week. It was a regular-season game, but both played like a state championship was on the line.
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“It sure felt like one other than the losing part,” said Althoff coach Greg Leib, whose 20-3 team couldn’t hold a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter andf as even-point lead early in the first overtime. “We got second place, we beat Carbondale in the semis last night and St. Joe’s beat us tonight, so I guess just send us our trophy.
“It’s tough, the kids are devastated. But we’ve got a lot of basketball left and we have some areas to get better at anyway.”
Both coaches and players on both sides talked about the state tournament atmosphere created by a sellout crowd of more than 3,000 at the Panther Dome, but the action on the court provided all the electricity.
“(It was) two quality teams that may get there, playing now,” legendary St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore said after collecting career win No. 951. “The atmosphere was unbelievable. That’s why you play these games, to get ready for the state tournament.”
Goodwin lamented the inability to protect the late leads, although Althoff also lost Gooch to an ankle injury for several minutes in the fourth quarter before he returned and tried to play on it.
“That’s on us,” Goodwin said. “Coach Leib did a great job trying to settle us down. We’re young and we made a few mistakes.”
Ferguson’s free throw tied it 95-95 and Watson waved his teammates back as he dribbled around defenders at the top of the key. He was covered tightly, but found Brown open in the lane and Brown nailed a turnaround jumper for the game-winner.
“What we like to do is spread it,” Pingatore said. “The whole idea is if they attack him, somebody’s going to be open — and that’s what happened.”
Leib noticed that Brown had missed six of his nine-free throw attempts in the game.
“We want to cover ((Watson) a little bit, he’s just such a good player,” Leib said. “He got loose and then 21 (Brown) dove in and made a great play. I don’t know how many free throws he missed (six), but he hit that shot pretty easy so he should have done turnaround free throws. He just made a great play.”
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Players from both teams took turns trying to push their squad over the top, but Watson’s 38 points helped will St. Joe’s (18-5) to the win.
“We expect that from Glynn,” Pingatore said. “He can take a game over by himself and he’s done it before.”
Leib saw the talent his team was facing with St. Joseph’s lineup of at three Division I players and a few more possible.
“It was a great team, they never quit,” he said. “That’s why Coach Ping’s got about 1,000 wins. It was a great battle, we had our chances and it just didn’t work out.”
Down by nine early in the first half, Althoff kept slashing away at the interior of the Chargers’ defense with great success. Goodwin was nearly unstoppable inside, helping to foul out St. Joseph’s 6-foot-11 Division I prospect Nick Rakocevic with 3:09 remaining in regulation.
Goodwin had only 11 points after three quarters and managed to shred the Chargers for 33.
“What an effort, he and Tarkus had incredible games,” Leib said. “Jordan is showing why you better pay attention to him. He don’t care if you’re 6-11, he’s coming at you. He did a great job, Gooch rebounded well. It was a good team effoert, we just didn’t win.”
Althoff led 67-57 with 2:40 remaining in regulation, but Watson refused to let his team submit. He tied it at 73 and 75 before Gooch’s shot at the end of the fourth quarter bounced off the rim to send it into overtime.
A quick 9-2 run by Althoff again had the Crusaders smelling a win, but nine points from Watson - including a ridiculously long 3-pointer that tied it at 89 and forced the second OT.
Then Brown stepped up to be the hero at the end.
“I thought we had it,” Goodwin said. “I thought we were going to another overtime, but he made the shot for the game-winner. We treated it like a state game, but we’ll be back in March. I hope we can see them in March.”
The Chargers also got 15 points each from Brown and Northwestern recruit Jordan Ash, while Rakocevic and Joffari Brown each had 11.