DECATUR — St. Teresa fended off a late fourth quarter surge by Heyworth and won 43-40 Thursday to advance to the championship game of the Team Soy St. Teresa Christmas Tournament.
Despite the Bulldogs getting eight quick points from Tyler Phillips in the first quarter, it was Heyworth that grabbed the early lead and took a 15-11 advantage into the second quarter.
The Bulldogs, led by Isaiah Bond's 19 points, methodically ate away at the lead and grabbed a one-point lead at the half.
"Credit to Heyworth, they hit us in the mouth early but we responded," St. Teresa coach Tom Noonan said. "I thought they were extremely efficient in that first quarter. They hit some big shots in a slow tempo game. I was pleased with our guys, who continued to grind and find a way to get that lead towards halftime and then build it in the third and fourth quarters."
The Hornets' third quarter was dismal as they scored only one bucket, a 3-pointer, and fell behind 33-25 going into the last period.
Bond scored two 3-pointers in the third to strengthen the lead, which was just what Noonan was looking for.
"Heyworth really made Isaiah work and he has had a great season so far. He hit a really big three for us. We couldn’t separate ourselves but in a game like that, a six-point lead, an eight-point lead felt huge," he said. "I’m pleased with him more on the rebounding end, especially late in the game, I saw a great effort from him."
Bond felt the pressure the Hornets were giving him but the St. Teresa coaches had prepared him for it.
"(Heyworth) did a lot of face guarding the whole first half," Bond said. "We sort of were expecting it and we ran through a couple of sets for it in practice. It is just something that we were prepared for."
It was the Bulldogs' turn to get cold in the fourth quarter. They were held scoreless in the fourth until 2:59 remained in the game.
As the score tightened, St. Teresa relied upon the strong free throw shooting of Manny Green and Bond.
Green hit four free throws in the final minute and Bond iced the game with two free throws, giving the Bulldogs the win.
"One thing we have talked about with Manny, he’s a gym rat and he takes a lot of pride in his shot and when he steps to the line we have a lot of confidence in him," Noonan said. "He hit some big ones when some other guys weren’t hitting them. He really stepped up and did the job for us."
LSA 61, Mount Pulaski 56
The third time was not the charm for Mount Pulaski as LSA defeated the Hilltoppers for the third time this season, advancing to play St. Teresa in the title game.
LSA controlled the first three quarters with a balanced scoring attack that was led by Ezra Schaal's 17 points. Grant Karsten added 16, which included five 3-pointers, and Garrett Guske put in 14.
But the Lions handed the Hilltoppers a gift in the fourth by coming out frigid. They didn't put a point on the board in the fourth until 3:50 remained, and by that time Mount Pulaski had taken the lead, 51-49.
Peyton Taylor, the Hilltoppers' 6-8 center, was a force under the basket, leading all scorers with 25 points.
The Lions trailed by five with 2:40 left and LSA Tom Saunches called a time out.
"I said, ‘Remember, the winner is probably going to be the team that can last the longest,’" Saunches said. "And then we played with a little reckless abandon and I think we are best when we play that way."
The momentum shifted almost immediately as Lions senior forward Ezra Schaal took over the game, scoring five points and grabbing a steal with less than a minute left.
On top of that, it was Schaal who had to guard Taylor all night.
"Ezra is a special athlete," Saunches said. "I’m not sure how tall Ezra actually is, but I know he’s not 6-8. And he guarded Peyton and yeah, he got points but Ezra made him work for them."
Saunches was also impressed with Grant Karsten, who guarded the Hilltoppers' high scoring Gezus Oliver and limited him to 10 points.
"I really thought a key was Grant's play against Oliver. In addition to his great offensive play he did a great job on defense," Saunches said.
Mount Pulaski will play Heyworth at 6 p.m. Friday in the third place game. St. Teresa and LSA will play at 7:30 p.m. in the championship game.