PEORIA – Two Joseph Yesufu free throws with eight seconds left extended Bolingbrook’s lead to 69-66.
When Fremd’s Luke Schoffstall missed the front end of a 1-and-1 a moment later, Tyler Cochran grabbed the defensive rebound and was fouled. He made the first free throw to secure the Raiders’ 70-66 victory Saturday evening in the Class 4A boys state tournament third-place game at Carver Arena.
For those who have been following coach Rob Brost’s Bolingbrook boys basketball team all season, what transpired in the final few seconds was nothing surprising.
Yesufu and Cochran were key cogs in a 30-2 season, beginning to end.
How easy it is to forget they are sophomores, filling out a lineup that included first-team all-stater Nana Akenten, plus two others who received all-state mention, Malik Binns and junior point guard Kaleb Thornton. But if the sophomores were supposed to play supporting roles, that isn’t the way it transpired.
“The older guys got into me when I made mistakes,” Yesufu said with a smile. “I am thankful for all they did for me.”
“The older guys taught us how to love each other,” Cochran said. “For Nana and Malik, it was their last high school game. They taught us how to cherish every moment.”
The Raiders, as they have done so often this season but especially in the postseason, put all five starters in double figures. That helped overcome Fremd’s deadly 3-point shooting.
The Vikings finished hitting 12 of 23 from 3-point range, including 8 of 13 in the second half. At one point in the second half, eight of their nine baskets came from beyond the arc.
Binns scored 18 points, Akenten 16, Yesufu 12, Cochran 11 and Thornton 10. Cochran grabbed six rebounds and Binns five. Cochran totaled four assists and Yesufu and Thornton had three each. Akenten blocked two shots.
That’s how balanced Bolingbrook was, one last time.
“I wasn’t rattled when I made the big free throws at the end,” Yesufu said. “Maybe a little at the beginning down here when I first saw the crowd, but our older guys helped me get over the jitters. Then I just started playing, and everything was good.”
Yesufu came into the season with varsity experience and significant fanfare. Cochran did not have the same notoriety – not yet, anyway – and was coming off the bench as a valuable sixth man early on. But when Trevor Ross was injured at Christmas, he moved into the starting lineup.
“I wasn’t used to coming off the bench and then I wasn’t used to starting, so it was an adjustment,” Cochran said. “Coach just said somebody else had to step up when Trevor got hurt. He always tells me to go out on the floor knowing what I can do and play my role. That’s what I tried to do.”
Yesufu arrived at the state finals averaging 10.1 points, Cochran 8.7 points and 5.5 rebounds. Thornton was chipping in 12.7 points and 4.4 assists.
“Everybody talks about Nana and Malik,” Brost said. “But our three guards are pretty good too. Starting two sophomores is refreshing from a coaching standpoint. And if there is a better point guard in the state in Kaleb’s [junior] class, I would like to see it.”
The sophomores and Thornton are quick, athletic and drive hard to the basket, where the opposing large bodies usually reside. They have no fear. That was evident in the third-place game, as it had been all season.
Akenten said the sophomores “have a dog mentality. They do what they have to do to win.”
“Joseph is explosive,” Brost said of Yesufu. “To say he is quick probably is an understatement. He has five or six scholarship offers as a sophomore. His decision-making is so much better now, particularly in the last month and a half.
“Tyler had 29 points against H-F and big games against Joliet West and Naperville North to help get us here. We missed Trevor [Ross], but Tyler provided more scoring punch when he got into the lineup.”
Bolingbrook also finished third in 4A two years ago, when Prentiss Nixon, now a standout guard at Colorado State, led the way.
“The culture is the same in our program as it has been the last four or five years,” Brost said. “We have a couple sophomores who are pretty good. They’re keeping it going.”
You never know what next season may bring, but from this vantage point, one thing is certain.
The 2017-18 Raiders will be fun to watch.
• Dick Goss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.