AURORA - When Oswego East's Demari Grant launched his last-second shot from the 3-point arc, time stopped for a second for Bolingbrook's Joseph Yesufu.
"I just froze for a second. I thought it was going to go in," Yesufu said.
And when Grant's shot bounced off the rim harmlessly the overwhelming emotion seemingly expressed by the majority of the Raiders was relief as they emerged from an extremely hard scrap in a 66-64 victory over the Wolves to advance to the Elite Eight.
The win lifts the Raiders (23-7) into the Illinois State University Super-Sectional where they will lock horns with the defending Class 4A State Champions from Belleville West. Belleville West collected a 95-83 win over Danville in the United Township Sectional final.
"They are a really good team and you knew it was probably going to come down to something like this," Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost said. "It's never going to go exactly how you want it. Our schedule prepared us for this. You can see how our guys didn't really get flustered in this atmosphere. I felt like we did a good job of making some plays when we needed to."
It was fitting that the outcome was not decided until the very last second in this contest because no team really ever seized true control of the game at any point. Bolingbrook's largest lead, and the largest lead of the game, was seven points (50-43). And when that happened, Oswego East promptly responded with a 10-2 run that allowed them to recapture the lead at 53-52. Yesufu's three-pointer at the end of the third quarter allowed the Raiders to head into the fourth quarter with a scant 55-53 lead.
Then Bolingbrook tried to draw at Oswego East out of its 2-3 zone with a mixed bag of results. The Raiders did manage to bleed off a ton of clock and when Kameron Leonard got free on the low block for a score with 3:26 to play to give the Raiders a 62-59 lead the offensive log jam was not released, it got even tighter.
Grant would answer with a basket at the 2:59 mark to make it a 62-61 game and then Bolingbrook would successfully wind off nearly two minutes of clock before briefly turning the ball over and then getting it back when the Wolves couldn't retrieve a loose ball that had ended up all the way down on Oswego East's end of the floor.
Bolingbrook had been having a bit of trouble in-bounding the ball on the past few possessions, but they would not have an issue on this play as Leonard slipped behind the defense was led beautifully by the pass and threw down a dunk to increase the lead to three, 64-61.
"I saw them cheat up to make the steal and I made eye contact with Jordan (Myrick) and he threw a great pass," Leonard said. "It lead to an easy dunk. It was great."
It didn't end the game. But after the Wolves missed on their next possession, Myrick went to the foul line and drained two free throws to put the Raiders up by five which looked like a mountain of a margin in a game such as this.
Oswego East didn't fold. Standout Ray J Dennis promptly drained a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left in the game to one again open the door just a crack and the gap got wider when Yesufu missed the front end of a one-and-one.
But the Raiders had one more trick in their bag. Despite playing hard, aggressive defense, Bolingbrook had only been whistled for two fouls. For all intents and purposes, Bolingbrook could foul with little consequence as long as Oswego East wasn't in shooting position. It would be a common foul with no free throws awarded.
Like most things in this game, it still didn't work exactly to plan. The Raiders got a few fouls collected to run the clock down to precious few seconds. But in the chaos of the final possession, Bolingbrook got caught in between trying to decide if they should risk fouling again or allow Oswego East to take a hurried shot.
Grant actually got a pretty good look and the hearts were in the throats on both sides as the ball was in flight, but the Raiders got the result they were hoping for and are off to the Super-Sectionals.
Once again Bolingbrook's offensive balance was a huge factor. Yesufu led the Raiders with 16 points, while Tyler Cochran posted a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Darius Burford had 10 first quarter points, but gave way to others later and finished with 14 points while Jordan Myrick rounded out the Bolingbrook double-digit scorers with 11 points.
Myrick's heavier contribution came on the defensive end as he spent most of the night shadowing Oswego East's star, Dennis. While Dennis finished with a more than respectable 16 points he had to do most of that with Myrick blocking his paths of preference at every turn.
"I just wanted to make it hard on him," Myrick said. "I felt like I did good. But it wasn't all me, I feel like my teammates really helped me out a lot. Whatever takes the win, whatever that had to be."
Grant, who was originally at Bolingbrook, led Oswego East with 19 points.