Joseph Larry is going to remember the championship of the Robeson Class 2A Sectional for a long time.
The dynamic Hales junior guard made two shots that changed the complexity of the game. His three-pointer from the right wing with 6:43 marked the fifth and final lead change as he scored nine of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter as Hales rallied from a double-digit deficit to outlast rival Leo 68-57 Friday night.
Hales advances to the Joliet Central Supersectional Tuesday night after winning its first sectional crown since the 2011 Class 2A state champion team.
“The game was going back and forth, and my teammates kept pushing me to step up and take a shot,” he said of his three-pointer. Larry scored 14 points in the second half to rally the Spartans (19-12) from a fired up Leo team that came out gunning.
“You can forget the rivalry, and know that this was a championship game,” Hales coach Gary London said. “We knew their guards were good, and they came out and played championship-caliber basketball against us.”
The Lions’ superb sophomore tandem of explosive scorer Darius Branch and Kewan Smith (14 points) pushed Leo (14-14) to a 29-18 lead with just over three minutes to play in the first half. Branch scored nine points in the first half.
Larry hit a leaner to close out the first half as Hales exploded for a 10-2 blast to pull within 31-28 at the break.
“We made some changes defensively, and we just started to get some stops,” Larry said.
A wild third quarter witnessed three lead changes and an electric atmosphere as both teams girded for the pivotal fourth quarter.
“Our inexperience and youth really hurt us in the fourth quarter,” Leo coach Noah Cannon said.
Missed free throws and 10 turnovers doomed the Lions’ upset bid. Leo missed 7-of-9 free throws in the second half, and shot a disastrous 1-for-6 in the fourth quarter.
Larry was a perfect 8-for-8 as Hales converted 16-of-20 in the fourth quarter.
“We thought with our size and depth we could wear them out, because we have to be able to create points off turnovers,” London said.
Senior guard Eddie Miles scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half. Senior swingman Tim Robertson scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half and junior Erion Moore added 12 points for the Spartans.
After torching Carver for 28 points in the sectional semifinal, Branch was limited to just 11 points, and just two after the break for the Lions (14-14).