Before the tournament began, Justin Taylor and Jamani Pierce heard a lot of talk about the stars in the McDipper 41tournament field, but didn’t hear their names mentioned much.
“No one was talking about us,” Taylor said. “Me and Jamani, we’re the underdogs.”
After carrying Thornton into Monday’s championship game, it’s safe to say the Wildcats’ duo has established itself.
Pierce dominated the first half Saturday. Taylor was the man down the stretch. Both finished with 25 points as Thornton outlasted Bolingbrook 71-67 in a semifinal thriller.
“Jamani has really stepped up,” Thornton coach Troy Jackson said. “Justin started slow, but the last four games he’s played like the player we know he can be.”
Thornton (7-3), which has won six straight, will make its ninth championship game appearance in tournament history when it takes on the winner of the late semifinal between Marian Catholic and Joliet Central at 7 p.m. Monday.
“Our kids played super. I tried to think of something intelligent to tell them in timeouts, but I couldn’t tell them anything. They were playing perfect.”
Bolingbrook (8-2) rallied from a late 63-57 deficit, briefly taking a 65-63 lead on a tip dunk from Kenny Williams (12 points, 8 rebounds) with 1:28 to go.
Williams, though, was called for a technical for hanging on the rim and Taylor hit both free throws. Taylor was fouled again on the ensuing possession and again hit both.
“(The technical foul) was huge,” Taylor said. “We had to hit our free throws”
After Williams scored to tie the game at 67-67 with 50 seconds left, Pierce skied for a putback to put the Wildcats on top for good with 22 seconds to go.
Out of a timeout, Bolingbrook got a great look for Prentiss Nixon (24 points), but he missed a three-pointer from the corner and Taylor sank two more free throws to seal the win.
“We got exactly what we wanted and the shot just didn’t fall,” Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost said. “Regardless of that, we didn’t deserve to win. We made too many mistakes and we went 5-of-14 from the line.”
Pierce, who finished with 13 rebounds, had 16 points and eight boards in the first half. With Taylor picking up two early fouls, Keondre Woods gave the Wildcats a big boost off the bench, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the second quarter.
After Thornton led 35-32 at the half, Taylor helped extend the lead, hitting all four of his third-quarter shots to score 10 in the period. He had 11 more in the fourth, going 8-of-8 from the line.
Gage Davis had 16 points for Bolingbrook.
“We’ve been wanting to play Marian,” Pierce said. “They’re supposed to be the team to beat, but we’re going to beat them.”