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Defense, Zion Griffin’s clutch move lead Hinsdale South past Downers North

Hinsdale South's Nick Perry (10) reacts after Zion Griffin (35) gets fouled with the clock winding down against Downers Grove North. Worsom Robinson/ For the Sun-Times.

Hinsdale South junior Zion Griffin is clearly just beginning to tap into his full potential. The 6-5 junior is strong and bouncy with a good feel for blocking shots and grabbing rebounds. It turns out he also has a knack for game-winning plays.

Both the Hornets and host Downers Grove North had trouble scoring in Wednesday’s Class 4A regional semifinal game. Hinsdale South coach Brett Moore knew he would need a big moment from Griffin to advance.

“With three or four minutes left in the fourth quarter I challenged him to be aggressive,” Moore said. “I think he was overthinking it, like a lot of people do in the playoffs.”

Griffin got the message. The Hornets trailed by one with 25 seconds to play when he made his move, a pretty fake along the baseline to remove one defender and then a half-spin past another. Griffin drained the short jumper to give Hinsdale South the lead for good.

“Coach put the game in my hands,” Griffin said. “I felt like I should be the leader there and just score.”

Downers Grove North had three shots to tie or win it in the final eight seconds but none would fall and the Hornets grabbed a 36-35 win.

“[Griffin] is just an athlete,” Moore said. “He’s so quick, so slippery. He can make some moves that people don’t normally see.”

Griffin finished with 12 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. He was an unknown before the season started, but slowly become a college prospect over the past few months.

“It’s been good, I’ve just been eating it up,” Griffin said. “They expected us to be underdogs this season. I felt that I had to step up and show people we are good.”

Seniors Diamond Anderson and Karol Lipiszko each added 12 points for Hinsdale South (18-11).

It wasn’t a pretty offensive effort from either team, but the Hornets won the defensive battle. They held Downers Grove North to just one point in the first quarter.

“I looked up on the way back to the bench and was kinda shocked,” Lipiszko said. “I knew were were trying to lock them down but didn’t realize they didn’t have a basket.”

Senior Ryan Pustelnik led the Trojans (19-8) with 13 points and Anthony Castelvecchi added eight points. Promising sophomore Sema’j Henderson missed his first 12 shots before scoring a key bucket in the fourth quarter.

“We were everywhere on defense,” Moore said. “Our defense was rotating perfect, doing all the stuff we’ve worked on. We had four practices just working on their spread offense. Our guys have bought in defensively all year. It was awesome seeing it.”

Downers Grove North fought back into the game over the last three quarters and grabbed the lead with 41 seconds to play on a rebound and bucket from Pustelnik. That set up Griffin’s heroics.

The Hornets will face Geneva in the regional final on Friday. The Vikings are one of the big stories of the season, they won 27 consecutive games and then dropped the final two of the regular season, to St. Charles North and Quincy.

“Geneva is discipline, discipline, discipline,” Moore said. “They run sets into more sets and make good decisions. We’ve got some idea of what we want to do.”