PONTIAC — There were less than four minutes left in the first quarter when Pontiac High School's basketball team held a one-point lead in Tuesday's Class 3A Pontiac Sectional semifinal game. The large hometown crowd was eating it up.
By the time the quarter ended, Marian Catholic had zoomed to a 15-5 lead.
“They're one of those teams where you make a mistake you're going to pay for it real quick,” said Pontiac coach Durrell Robinson. “We haven't really seen that since our holiday tournament, that type of athleticism.”
Marian's Chris White was dominant at both ends. The 6-foot-7 junior recorded a triple double with 18 points, 13 rebounds and 11 blocks as the fifth-ranked Spartans strolled to a 66-40 victory over the Indians.
“They showed us why they are great,” said Robinson. “They're athletic, play hard and play well together. You have to seize your opportunities. We missed too many layups in the first two quarters to even give ourselves a chance.”
Junior guard Malik Tidwell added 17 points and sophomore guard Ahron Ulis scored 13 as the Spartans (22-5) from Chicago Heights advanced to Friday's championship game against the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between Rich East and Kankakee.
Sophomore forward Ryan Weir led the Indians (17-13), who were playing in their first sectional in five years, with 12 points and seven rebounds. Pontiac shot 21.6 percent from the field.
Weir split a pair of free throws with 4:18 left in the first quarter to give Pontiac its first — and only — lead at 5-4. Tidwell sank a short jumper in the lane that started a 14-0 run by the Spartans.
Ulis, whose brother, Tyler, plays for the NBA's Phoenix Suns, drained a long 3-pointer from out front with a second left in the first half to put Marian ahead, 33-17.
“The thing we were worried about was playing on their home court and they had a lot of energy,” said Marian coach Mike Taylor. “In the end our quickness and Chris White's ability to protect the basket and block shots was probably the difference the next four to six minutes (after Pontiac led) and the shot at halftime. They could gone to halftime feeling a little good and probably went in a little deflated.”
Still, Pontiac made a brief surge to start the third quarter. Alden Rutledge's 3-pointer cut the deficit to 35-23. But the Spartans closed the quarter on a 17-2 surge, capped by Tidwell's 16-foot jumper, for a 54-27 lead heading to the fourth quarter and it never got closer than that until the final minute.
“Defensively, I think we played decent,” said Robinson as Marian shot 53.1 percent from the field. “But just missing layup after layup, you have to take care of the easy stuff to have a chance when you're an underdog.”
Robinson, in his first year as Pontiac's coach, oversaw an improvement of 13 wins from last season. He gave credit to the Indians' five seniors for buying in from the first day.
“They don't have any idea how high they set the bar, which is a good thing,” he said. “I've seen so much growth in these kids. I'm so proud of them just learning how to compete, accountability, implementing and changing the mindset of the program. These kids have bought into it and I'm glad they got to reap the rewards we were able to get this year.”