ROCK ISLAND — If you love high school basketball, you would have been overjoyed to watch Wednesday's Class 4A Rock Island Regional semifinal between No.7-ranked Bloomington and host Rock Island.
Neither team deserved to take a loss in a thriller the Rocks took in double-overtime, 79-76 in front of a small but raucous crowd.
"This was on heck of a basketball game," said Bloomington coach Micheal Mosley, whose team was led by junior Chris Payton's 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks.
"I told my guys this one came down to who made the most plays down the stretch and Rock Island did exactly that. We didn't lose this game, they just happened to be the better team late in the second overtime."
Bloomington finished its season at 19-8 while the Rocks improved to 17-11 and advanced to Friday's 7 p.m. final against No. 8 Normal West (22-8).
The game featured great individual plays, great teamwork and is smattering of "high-school" mistakes that neither coach could do anything about.
"They are such a great team," Rock Island coach Thom Sigel said. "You could see their kids know how to win. I am so proud of the effort our guys showed. We stepped into this sectional and it is a dang gauntlet.
"Our record probably isn't what a lot of people would like and we lost some games we should have won but this schedule we played has prepared us for this and we really di a lot of things well."
JaMir Price had a career-high 32 points, including a driving layup against Bloomington's 6-foot-6 superstar Payton to put the Rocks ahead 77-76 with 31.2 seconds left in the second OT.
"I was paying too much attention to (Payton) early in the game," Price said. "On that last one, I was just intent on getting to the basket and scoring. I was not going to let us lose this game, no matter what."
After that, it was senior role player Jayden Tucker who came to the rescue. On a backdoor pass to Bloomington's Rayquon Miller, he snuck in from behind an stripped the ball away. He was fouled with with 13.4 seconds left but missed both free throws.
On the ensuing possession, Jayden Tucker stripped the ball again. This time he made both free throws to put the Rocks up 79-76 with 5.6 seconds left. On the inbound pass, Aaron Voss tipped the pass and Randy Tucker stole it. He missed both free throws with 2.4 seconds but Payton's three-quarter court heave was way off line as the buzzer sounded.
"We have a lot of guys who helped us win this game," Randy Tucker said. "That was two huge plays by Jayden. We have guys who may not score much but they do what their role is to do."
Randy Tucker finished with 24 points, hitting four of five 3-pointers and Ben Elis came up huge late with some key baskets and free throws to finish with 15 points and seven rebounds.
"These games come down to making plays and we had so many guys make plays late in this game," Sigel said. "There were so many big plays it is hard remember them all."
Added Mosley, "We knew coming in that Price and Randy Tucker could hurt us. This was a really tough first regional game for us. That is a really talented team and Thom really can coach them. They were prepared and it was a great battle."
One that those who were on hand at Rock Island Fieldhouse will not soon forget.