Following a rather ho-hum start to the state tournament in regional play last week and sectional semifinal action earlier this week, the madness took over Friday night in sectional championship games across the state.
There were multiple overtimes and one-possession thrillers, buzzer-beaters, upsets and sold out gymnasiums.
The calendar has turned to March and “March Madness” isn’t just a catchy name.
We are down to eight teams in each class with all the dreams of playing in Champaign next weekend fully intact and alive for 32 teams in Illinois.
Here is a look at all that went down in a wild night of high school basketball across the state, starting with the magic that happened in Effingham.
The most incredible sectional game and dramatic finish
Game tied. Double overtime. Sectional final. That’s enough right there to create a vision of what basketball in March is all about.
But throw in a buzzer-beater –– from 60 feet away –– and it’s bedlam.
With 2.6 seconds remaining in double overtime in the Effingham St. Anthony Sectional title game, Meridian’s Graham Meisenhelter received an inbound pass on the far baseline, took one dribble and casually launched a three-quarter court shot just before the buzzer sounded for a 82-79 win over Tuscola.
Prior to the 60-foot heave, Meridian’s Riley Day drained an off-balanced three-pointer from 25 feet at the buzzer to send the game into a second overtime.
Tuscola’s Jalen Quinn, one of the top 10 prospects in the state headed to Loyola next season, finished with 35 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the gut-wrenching loss.
Meridian, a 15-minute drive just south of Decatur, now advances to a Class 1A Carbondale super-sectional to face Steeleville Monday night.
And the least dramatic run
We go from one unbelievable Class 1A storyline to the other end of the spectrum.
Yorkville Christian was expected to roll through the Class 1A competition once state tournament play began –– at least in getting to Champaign. And the Mustangs have done just that and then some
With its 81-47 sectional championship win over Putnam County, Yorkville Christian has now won five postseason games by 62, 46, 40, 44 and 34 points.
Now it faces the lowest seeded team remaining in Class 1A, Lexington, in the Normal Super.
Best postseason storyline: Lemont
Lemont vs. Simeon? Deep in the postseason? Squaring off in a super-sectional?
Yes. No double take is needed. It’s happening.
While Glenbard West was the talk of the state throughout the regular season and is dismantling everyone in its playoff path thus far, Lemont has emerged as the biggest and best story of this postseason.
And now it gets a shot at mighty Simeon, the state’s ultimate measuring stick in terms of the hierarchy of high school basketball in Illinois.
Lemont won its last regional in 1993. We all know what Simeon has done since then: six state championships and nine state trophies while winning 14 sectionals in the last 18 years.
But this one won’t be about history. It will be about this Monday night at UIC where a pro-Lemont crowd will be revved up.
Lemont, the No. 4 seed in the Thornwood Sectional, has defied the odds while playing with a very young team that was expected to be this good next year.
Sophomore Nojus Indrusaitis is the headliner as one of the top young prospects in the state. The junior duo of twins Rokas and Matas Castillo are fun and fearless junior guards. Several other juniors, including 6-4 Patrick Gardner, Joe Pender, Conor Murray and Gavin Kelby, have settled into their roles.
Despite showing promise and potential during the regular season, Lemont certainly had its hiccups. Youth could certainly be blamed.
There was a fizzle on a big holiday tournament stage in late December. Lemont lost in the second round and failed to even reach the quarterfinals of the 32-team Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York, then losing to Batavia in consolation play.
Lemont lost to conference nemesis Hillcrest and fell to Oak Lawn by 16 points late in the season.
No one could have expected Lemont to then go out and win one of the tougher sectionals in the state. They’ve taken down everyone, perennial powers included, en route to its first sectional title since 1975.
Lemont won what most considered a flip-of-the-coin game in a regional title matchup with Marian Catholic, a team fresh off winning the East Suburban Catholic Conference Tournament.
Then coach Rick Runaas’ team toppled top-seed Hillcrest in the sectional semifinals, the very same team it lost to just a few weeks earlier.
And then the stunner over Thornton and Ty Rodgers in the sectional championship, a Thornton team that had won 13 straight, including a road win at Kenwood to close out the regular season.
Lemont, a team recognized for its offensive firepower on the perimeter, held the Illinois commit Rodgers to six points and six rebounds.
Back in 1975, the last time it played in a super-sectional, famed Lemont coach John Jones led the way. At that time Lemont was a Class A school in the old two-class system.
Thus, Monday night will be quite a step up for a program that lost to Buda Western in its last super-sectional game 47 years ago in Sterling to facing mighty Simeon at UIC’s Credit Union 1 Arena in Chicago.
Status quo in Class 4A
Of the eight teams remaining in Class 4A, six are No. 1 sectional seeds that took care of business. All six will face one another in super-sectional play Monday night, while No. 2 seed Bolingbrook and No. 3 seed Quincy will square off at ISU’s Redbird Arena.
But the storyline in Class 4A is the fresh blood and new faces all still alive this late in the journey to Champaign.
Glenbrook South and Kenwood won their first sectional championships in program history.
Glenbard West will be playing in its second supersectional in school history, while Barrington won just its second sectional title in over four decades.
Even Quincy, one of the most storied high school basketball programs in state history, has returned to the spotlight.
The Blue Devils have won a state record 31 sectional championships –– Yes, you read that right! Thirty-one! –– but ended the longest sectional title drought in school history Friday night. The lowest-seeded team in Class 4A upset 33-1 Normal, winners of 26 straight games, and celebrated a sectional championship for the first time in 22 years.
This sectional championship win comes on the heels of a buzzer-beating sectional semifinal win over Collinsville.
While Quincy is led by New Orleans commit Jeremiah Talton, a 6-5 shooting wing, the Blue Devils have talented young players that show this program is back.
Sophomore Ralph Wires hit the game-winner to beat Collinsville. Freshman Bradley Longcor is one of the best young players in the state and a double-figure scorer. Freshman Keshaun Thomas is a 6-5 freshman who went for 13 points and 12 rebounds in the sectional title game.
Public League power
The Public League is guaranteed to have one team playing in Champaign next weekend. Young and Kenwood meet in what should be a classic super-sectional in Class 4A.
Simeon will be favored in its Class 3A super-sectional matchup with Lemont.
But don’t forget about Marshall. The Commandos have won five postseason games after winning just two regular-season games. Marshall won its own sectional and heads into its Class 1A super-sectional showdown with Scales Mound with a 7-14 record.
Other sectional title game notes, thoughts and observations
➤ Burlington Central has seen enough of St. Francis.
In its quest for the first sectional title in program history, Burlington Central lost a heartbreaker to St. Francis, falling 37-35 in the final seconds of the game and ending its best season in school history. Sebastian Miller’s game-winning pull-up jumper with 14 seconds remaining was the difference.
St. Francis also knocked Burlington Central out of the state playoffs the last time there was one played in 2020.
St. Francis, which won a sectional title in 2013, travels to Ottawa to face Metamora in the super-sectional.
➤ The highly-anticipated Glenbrook South-New Trier sectional title game ultimately produced a big super-sectional favorite.
After putting together terrific regular seasons and splitting their two Central Suburban League South matchups, there was no doubt GBS and New Trier would go toe-to-toe, down to the wire in a sectional championship slugfest.
Now Glenbrook South will be heavily favored over Barrington in the Forest View Super, though the Broncos have been red-hot down the stretch.
➤ The most anticipated Class 2A postseason matchup is set, albeit before we get to Champaign. The final AP state rankings in Class 1A last month had Leo ranked No. 1 and DePaul Prep ranked No. 2. They will meet Monday night in the Joliet Central Super.
➤ Glenbard West has dominated in Class 4A. This was expected when state assignments came out and the top team in the state was placed in a relatively soft sectional.
But after crushing Wheaton South 68-41 in the Bartlett Sectional title game, coach Jason Opoka’s team has now won regional and sectional titles by victory margins of 46, 38, 29 and 27 points. I guess you could say each game is getting closer?
➤ Coach Mike Bailey has led the St. Patrick program since taking over for coach Max Kurland in 1994. After upsetting top-seed Lake Forest 53-52 Friday night, Bailey has now won three sectional championships in his nearly 30 years at the North Side private school. He’s seeking his first trip to the State Finals.
The Shamrocks face St. Ignatius in a Class 3A super-sectional. St. Ignatius is coached by Bailey’s former assistant coach, Matt Monroe, who spent eight years at St. Pat’s before taking over the St. Ignatius program.
➤ The Class 4A field of eight super-sectional qualifiers includes eight public schools. Half of the remaining teams in both Class 3A and Class 2A are private schools, while another private school, Yorkville Chrisitian, is the heavy favorite in Class 1A.