AURORA – The Geneva boys basketball team's 10-point fourth quarter lead thinned to two, and the Vikings' prospects of making the championship game of the East Aurora Holiday Tournament were growing murky.
Vikings senior point guard Cam Cook then lost his balance on an aggressive slash toward the basket, drawing contact while releasing his floater. The whistle sounded, and Cook wasn't sure what to make of it.
"I looked at the ref and I couldn't really tell what his call was going to be," Cook said. "I might have thought it was going to be a charge, but my teammates all came around me like 'That was an and-one.' That got me pretty pumped up, and I think got my team pumped up."
The moment loomed large in the Vikings' 60-55 win against Neuqua Valley in Saturday's pool play finale. The three-point play gave Geneva a 50-45 lead at the 3:10 mark of the fourth quarter.
The sight of a Viking shuffling toward the foul line grew stale for Neuqua (9-3), which watched Geneva (11-3) shoot 31 free throws compared to nine attempts for the Wildcats.
Geneva coach Phil Ralston said converting more free throws than the opponents attempts – the Vikings made 23 of them Saturday – is always an objective for his team.
"That's kind of our goal going into it," Ralston said. "We feel if we can do that in every game, that's giving us a huge advantage. That's kind of our philosophy. We want to try and pound that ball inside, and get good driving opportunities."
Geneva's senior guards finished off the Wildcats in the closing minutes. Cook buried a 3-pointer to make it 53-45 with 2:43 to play, and after four straight Neuqua points brought the Wildcats within 53-49, Cook snared his lone offensive rebound of the night to keep a possession alive that resulted in two Chris Parrilli free throws to bump the margin to six.
Parrilli scored what he believed to be a career high 24 points on the night, including a trio of 3-pointers.
"I haven't been shooting the ball terrific the past couple of days but I don't let things get to me like that," Parrilli said. "I'm not going to shy away if I miss a shot. It's really just understanding what are good shots and what aren't. We moved the ball really well tonight, and when you have open shots like that, when you're getting nice looks, wide open, getting good passes from your teammates, it's a lot easier to shoot the ball with good passes."
In the first half, Geneva made only 4 of 17 shots from the floor and turned the ball over 10 times, seven more than Neuqua. Yet the Vikings led, 23-21, at halftime thanks largely to their steady flow of free throws.
"We've got to keep their guys out of the lane," Neuqua coach Todd Sutton said. "They shredded us all night. We just can't guard them."
Junior forward Nate Navigato (11 points) and senior guard Justin Durante (10) joined Parrilli in double figures, while Cook scored nine.
Geneva capped pool play with a 3-0 mark and advances to Monday night's championship game against the host Tomcats, who defeated Aurora Central Catholic in Saturday's nightcap.
Ralston called the victory against Neuqua a "signature win" for the Vikings. Neuqua looked the part of Class 4A power early on, leading 12-3 before Geneva scored the final six points of the opening quarter.
"Credit them for them jumping out like that, but give our kids a lot more credit for being able to make the adjustments," Ralston said.