PLANO – In the nine years since Brett Porto took over the Burlington Central program and the seven years since it entered the annual Plano Christmas Classic, the only thing that the Rockets have been missing is a chance to cut down the nets.
The Rockets made the Plano Christmas Classic semifinals in each of the past two seasons, and also got bounced from the regional final in each of those years despite 26-4 records.
On Saturday, the title-less rein came to an end.
Forced to play in a halfcourt game by an unfamiliar opponent, Burlington Central snatched a 44-39 victory in overtime over Peoria Notre Dame and took their time cutting down the nets.
“It means the most to me. This is my favorite tournament outside of the playoffs,” said Burlington Central senior Zach Schutta, who scored a team-high 12 points.
Schutta was a four-time all-tournament selection in his four years playing at the Plano Christmas Classic. In his final chance to play in the esteemed tournament, not only did he help lead his team to a victory but he was also awarded MVP.
With Schutta leading the way, depth and athleticism is a calling card for the Rockets (10-2) and they routinely use it to push the tempo.
Patrick Mayfield scored 11 points and Desjami Beamon added 10 on Saturday for Burlington Central.
But Peoria Notre Dame made a living all tournament by taking care of the basketball, playing great defense and knocking down shots. They did more of the same on Saturday.
Burlington Central, though, proved that they could adapt to style of play. Even if it’s one they’re unfamiliar with.
"I've been doing this a long time and I haven't seen too many teams that play that way," Porto said. "They execute so well and they play such good competition. That matchup zone is difficult -- the 1-2-2 -- so for us to be able to grind out a win like this and be really mentally tough was pretty special."
In a game that saw five ties and 14 lead changes, Burlington Central never allowed Peoria Notre Dame to lean on them too heavily. They stayed in puncher's range, even when Schutta picked up his fourth foul with 3:37 left in the third quarter.
In overtime, they even outexecuted Peoria Notre Dame in the halfcourt on both ends of the floor, forcing a pair of critical turnovers in the final minute to ice the game. It was the only time that the Rockets scored fewer than 67 in the tournament and was the fourth consecutive game the Irish played with the winner in the 40s.
And it couldn't mean more for the program as a whole.
"I think it says a lot about these seniors. They've been knocking at the door the last couple years and we've had a lot of good players come through here and had some good teams. These guys have been a part of a lot of those games and they really took it upon themselves to bust down that door," Porto said.