BLOOMINGTON -Sheldon Harper's 3-point attempt from the corner went in and out as the horn sounded to end the game.
Rockton Hononegah coach Mike Miller's heart was still pounding about 10 minutes later.
"I don't think I've stopped sweating on that last shot yet," said Miller as perspiration dripped on his face.
Second-seeded Hononegah played a defensive tug-of-war with Normal Community in a State Farm Holiday Classic Class AA semifinal game Thursday. Hononegah made 9 of 11 free throws down the stretch, then survived Harper's near heroics to hold off the Ironmen 36-33 at Shirk Center.
The victory sends Hononegah (10-2) into today's 9 p.m. championship game against No. 1-seeded Thornwood (9-1) at Shirk Center. Thornwood beat Rock Island 61-48 in the other semifinal.
NCHS and Rock Island meet in the third-place game at 2:30 p.m. at Shirk Center.
NCHS (4-5), the No. 10 seed, had two chances to force overtime after Hononegah's Zac Johnson made one of two free throws with 14.4 seconds left.
Aaron Garriott's 3-point attempt came up short with three seconds to go. Harper grabbed the ball and alertly ran to the corner by the Ironmen's bench and launched a shot beyond the arc that did everything but fall.
NCHS shot 27.7 percent from the field (10 of 36) against Hononegah's 1-2-2 zone.
"We just could never get it going. You have to give Hononegah credit. They play great defense and box out well," said NCHS coach Dave Witzig. "We couldn't get a shot in the paint.
"We didn't hit enough shots at the other end to get a W. I thought our defense once again was awesome."
The Ironmen are on the verge of setting a tournament record for defensive average. NCHS has allowed 30.7 points in three games, well below U High's tourney mark of 36.3 set in 1992.
Yet NCHS needed a little more offense to knock off Hononegah. The Ironmen didn't score until 1:06 was left in the first quarter, but still managed a 5-3 lead after the period. Hononegah recovered to go ahead 15-10 at halftime.
NCHS never led in the second half. Adam Curran's 3-pointer gave the Indians a 27-19 lead with 5:32 left before NCHS made its last push, three times getting within two in the final 1:05.
Craig Lutes paced NCHS with 11 points, while Harper added eight points and seven rebounds. Hononegah shot 45.8 percent from the field (11 of 24). Forward Eric Miller led the Indians with 11 points and Johnson contributed 10.
"We got very few fast break layups and they didn't give us a chance for easy shots. They just didn't allow us to do it," said Witzig. "They run offense a little like we would like - they were patient and spread it out. They executed very well."
Andre Richardson's third 3-pointer of the game had fifth-seeded Rock Island (7-5) thinking upset. The Rocks trailed Thornwood 43-40 with three minutes left in the third quarter. But Thornwood didn't panic.
"To their credit, they hit some tough shots. I didn't think they would sustain those 3-pointers the whole night," said Thornwood coach Bob Curran. "We told our players to stay at home, stay on the ground, try not to let them penetrate and keep them out of the lane."
Thornwood followed their coach's instructions perfectly.
The Thunderbirds went on a 16-2 run, allowing Rock Island one basket in almost nine minutes, to pull away. Thornwood showed more energy thanks to 6-4 senior Rashad Singleton, who sat out the first two games of the tourney for missing practice.
Singleton was among four Thornwood players in double figures with 11 points and also grabbed six rebounds. Brandon Merke paced the Thunderbirds with 13 points, while Reggie Hamilton added 12 and Trey Blue 11.
"I thought Rashad coming back brings athleticism we were missing," said Curran. "He gets a lot of those loose balls and just his length defensively makes us better. He can guard multiple positions."
Singleton helped hold Rock Island's 6-7 Jonathan Burnett to eight points and only one basket. Richardson and Kevin Mitchell each scored 12 points to lead the Rocks.
"We didn't have anything in the scouting report on him (Singleton)," said Rock Island coach Thom Sigel. "He crashed the boards, posted up and did a lot of things. He made them a different team than what we saw."
In other games
Notre Dame 40, Hyde Park 37 Josh Edmonds scored 17 points as Peoria Notre Dame (6-5) captured the consolation championship game at Horton Field House. Chicago Hyde Park (6-5) was led by Brandon Russell's 16 points.
Grayslake 54, Andrew 45: Travis Guy's 20 points paced Grayslake (9-3), which meets Mount Zion at 1 p.m. today at Horton for fifth place.
Mount Zion 67, St. Rita 55: Stephen Agee, Chris Day and Zach Lewis combined for 51 points to power Mount Zion (8-3).