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ROCK ISLAND — Ten quick points were a mirage for the Normal West High School basketball team Friday at Rock Island Fieldhouse.

Over the horizon of the Class 4A Rock Island Regional championship game was an emboldened team playing superb defense in the comfort of its home gym.

After the encouraging start, No. 8-ranked West went dry and Rock Island surged to a 65-57 victory.

"Credit them. Their kids played great," Wildcats coach Brian Cupples said. "They were realy good defensively. They changed things up man and zone, and we struggled to make shots and struggled to get the ball where we wanted to get it."

The Wildcats bowed out at 22-9 as standout junior Francis Okoro led the way with 16 points and 17 rebounds.

Rock Island (18-11) knocked off a second state-ranked Intercity team in three days. The Rocks had ousted No. 7 Bloomington in a regional semifinal Wednesday.

"It was so tough here to face two great teams," said Rock Island coach Thom Sigel. "We were able to host and we were able to take advantage of it. The guys really stepped up."

West bounced out to a 10-3 lead with the help of two Nate Duckworth 3-pointers and an Okoro inside bucket.

Yet the Wildcats scored just one point over the final 4:16 of the opening quarter as the Rocks sped to a 15-11 edge.

A Malik Tucker 15-footer brought West within 22-20 with 34 seconds left in the first half, but two Ben Ellis free throws at the two-second mark sent Rock Island into halftime with a four-point margin.

The Rocks, who meet Moline on Tuesday in the Pekin Sectional, led 37-26 late in the third quarter before a Shea Cupples 3-pointer lifted the Wildcats within eight entering the final quarter.

Yet with Rock Island limiting possessions with patience on offense and then wriggling free for high percentage shots, West's deficit grew to 50-34 on an Ellis three-point play with 3:45 to play. 

"We didn't execute on both sides," Duckworth said. "We made mistakes we hadn't made all year. They kept getting to the middle. We were not moving the ball well enough and had a couple bad turnovers."

The Wildcats rallied within 60-52 at the 1:10 mark on a Shea Cupples three-point play and advanced as close as seven on a Duckworth 3-pointer with 18 seconds showing.

"Once they got up, they forced our hands and we got away from what we do," said Coach Cupples.

With Rock Island collapsing down low with frequent double teams on Okoro, West's 6-foot-9 junior was held to six points through three quarters.

"He gets beat on like crazy," Coach Cupples said. "But that's not why we lost the game. Rock Island beat us handily."

Randy Tucker burned West with a trio of third quarter 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 24 points for the Rocks.

"When Okoro got it, we trapped him and made it hard for him," said Tucker. "To get it done is a great feeling. We came together. We've all got big hearts."

Duckworth added 12 points, Drew Wollenschlager 10 and Shea Cupples nine for the Wildcats, who were 6 of 25 from 3-point range.

JaMir Price chipped in 16 and Ellis 11 for the Rocks, who hit 5 of 10 from beyond the arc.

Rock Island committed 14 turnovers, five more than West.

The Wildcats scored 28 fourth-quarter points to nearly match their 29 over the initial three periods.

Follow Randy Reinhardt on Twitter: @Pg_Reinhardt


Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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