MOOSEHEART – The T-shirts in the sea of red proclaimed Mooseheart’s first regional championship in school history.
For other schools, a lack of postseason success might have meant just playing in the sectional was fulfilling enough.
But Mooseheart features a once-in-a-lifetime, prospect-laden team that had a lot more than a regional championship on its mind.
All seemed to be right for the Ramblers, who led comfortably throughout the fourth quarter only to see Chicagoland Jewish win in stunning fashion, 70-67, to advance to the IHSA 3A Mooseheart Sectional championship game.
The Ramblers saw a 64-54 lead with 3:06 left slip away as the Tigers scored nine points in the final minute to pull the upset.
Brothers Josh and Jake Newlander proved too much for Mooseheart to stop as each had a hand in the win. Jake Newlander knocked down a 3-pointer with 23 seconds to go that gave Chicagoland Jewish its first lead of the second half and Tigers had just enough to hang on.
“What we really felt is as they can take advantage of us with their size, we can take advantage of them with our quickness,” Chicagoland Jewish coach Marty Dello said. “We felt like they had to guard our guards and we knew it would be tough for them being that big.”
The final minutes of the game were made possible as the Tigers’ relentless pressure forced a number of turnovers in a row, including one that led to Newlander’s 3-pointer that gave Chicagoland Jewish a 66-64 lead.
Makur Puou, who finished with 30 points, had a chance to tie the game with 17.2 seconds to go but split a pair of free-throws that made it 66-65.
After Jake Newlander sank a pair at the line, Puou again brought the Ramblers within one after knocking down two free-throws that made it 68-67 with five seconds left.
Chicagoland Jewish’s Josh Newlander missed two free-throws with 3.1 seconds to go but the Tigers corralled the rebound with .02 seconds left and hit both free throws to provide the final score of 70-67. The Ramblers full-court heave was intercepted and the Tigers ended Mooseheart’s season.
“Being up in the fourth quarter, I never once thought we were out of the woods,” Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. “The way that those guys shoot the 3s. Each of the Newlander’s hit a 3 – I just knew how well they shot the 3 and that 10 was never enough.”
Chicagoland Jewish led early in the second quarter 18-11 as the Tigers’ physical, full-court pressure gave Mooseheart trouble.
The Ramblers regrouped quickly though because of Puou, who put Moosheart on his back in the second quarter. The 6-foot-10 Puou, part of the South Sudanese trio, scored 15 straight points in a four-minute span, as the Ramblers turned the seven-point deficit into a 33-24 halftime lead. Puou finished the half with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Puou never really got going in the second half after the monster opening 16 minutes. The junior only managed nine points on two field goals as the Tigers swarmed the big man on defense.
“We were dribbling too much against their press and weren’t passing the ball very well,” Ahrens said. “We probably had 25 turnovers tonight. That’s a tough way to end the season. They are a good defensive team and play full-court pressure the entire team that allowed them to come back.”
Puou led Moosheart in the loss with 30 points and 16 rebounds.
The Newlander brothers combined to hit 10 3-pointers, which allowed the Tigers to creep back into the game late. Jake Newlander finished with a team-high 25 points while brother Josh had 21.
Chicagoland Jewish moves on to play Newark in the sectional final Saturday.