ELGIN – The Mooseheart boys basketball was outscored, 24-3, from the 3-point line Wednesday night.
The one that dropped, though, seemed to suck the tension out of the gymnasium, and helped the Red Ramblers put away host Westminster Christian, 45-30, in an IHSA Class 1A regional semifinal.
The heavy underdog Warriors, trailing by seven at the end of third quarter, drew within 30-25 with 5:25 to go in the game, a marked contrast from the 20-plus point wins Mooseheart scored against Westminster Christian during the regular season.
A minute later, with the score still stuck at 30-25, Mooseheart junior guard Mangisto Deng canned the Ramblers’ only 3 of the night to supply some much appreciated breathing room.
“Any time you can hit a 3 when it’s a five-point game, that really kind of demoralizes a team,” Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. “I’m used to seeing a lot of 3s get drained on us, people draining them everywhere on us, all the time, it seems like.
“ … I’m getting tired of seeing other people’s 3s go in. It was nice that finally one of ours went in, and we don’t shoot them very often.”
Mooseheart (23-5) advances to Friday’s regional championship game against Hinckley-Big Rock, which won the night’s first semifinal, 44-33, against Harvest Christian. The game will be moved to Judson University to accommodate the anticipated large crowd Friday; the regular season meeting between the Royals and Ramblers, won by H-BR, was a sell-out in Hinckley.
Mooseheart has never won a regional championship. A school representative said after the game that the program’s last postseason hardware was a district title claimed in 1964.
This isn’t your grandfather’s Ramblers, though, or even a squad that would be recognizable compared to any other season in program history.
Buoyed by a front line of South Sudanese transfer students Akim Nyang (7-foot-1), Makur Puou (6-10) and the 6-7 Deng on the wing, Mooseheart is a matchup nightmare, especially at the Class 1A level.
Still, Westminster Christian stayed competitive most of the night, focusing its defensive resources on Puou and Deng and keeping its turnovers to a minimum to help compensate for being smashed on the glass, 41-13.
The Warriors made eight 3-pointers on the night but attempted 32.
“I think a good 3-point shooting team could have beat them tonight, and we were way below average tonight,” said veteran Westminster Christian coach Bruce Firchau, an Elburn resident. “I think a good 3-point shooting team, and Mooseheart doesn’t advance.”
Defense has been Mooseheart’s strongsuit this season, and that remained the case Wednesday as Mooseheart won its second straight regional game after Tuesday’s blowout opener against Faith Lutheran.
“We single-digited them every quarter, so I can’t complain about our [defensive] effort, what we’re doing, giving up 30 points,” Ahrens said. “I just thought sometimes we were sluggish offensively.”
Warriors freshman Dillon Rejman, whose slight physique was accentuated by Mooseheart’s comparative, towering size, delighted the home crowd by hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter to keep the Warriors’ deficit to 20-14 at halftime.
Puou and Nyang combined for 16 of Mooseheart’s 20 first half points, all on shots from within a few feet of the basket. Nyang, usually not much of a scorer, started fast for the Ramblers, scoring all eight of his points in the first half. He added 10 rebounds.
“He had six points in the first quarter which was really nice, it took a lot of pressure off us, because we need another scorer like that,” Ahrens said.
Puou finished with 15 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Deng had 13 points and Sophomore guard Hameed Odenewu added nine points for Mooseheart.
Senior guard Will Woodhouse scored 13 points to pace Westminster Christian (17-13), which capped its seventh straight winning season.