PEORIA — After battling back from a six-point deficit to forge a halftime tie in the Illinois Class 1A state boys' basketball final, the Annawan Braves were feeling good about their situation.
However, that good feeling, and for all intents and purposes Annawan's bid for its first boys' hoops state championship, had a cold towel thrown on it by the third-quarter outside shooting of Okawville junior guard Will Krohne.
Held to just six first-half points, Krohne got open in the corner several times and knocked down three 3-pointers in five attempts in the third period, along with a conventional three-point play in the closing seconds that gave the Rockets a 13-point lead. An Annawan rally came up short as the Braves fell 59-48 Saturday afternoon at Carver Arena.
"In the third quarter, we couldn't get a bucket to fall; our offensive execution wasn't there. Defensively, we couldn't find their shooters," said Annawan senior forward Ben Buresh. "They're hard to guard, a true test of our defense, and they were able to exploit some weaknesses. But we gave our maximum effort. We can hang our hats on that."
Trailing 43-30 entering the final eight minutes, the Braves (31-4) marshaled their efforts for one final run, closing the gap to 49-44 on a Buresh trey with 2:06 left to play. At that late stage, though, Annawan was forced to foul, and the Rockets (27-8) hit 10 straight free throws to secure the win and their first state title.
"They're a great shooting team," said Annawan senior point guard Owen Landwehr (20 points with eight rebounds and three assists), "and that translated to the free throw line."
The teams played a back-and-forth first quarter, with the Braves at one point going up 10-6. Late in the period, Okawville led by three before senior guard Brendon Shaw buried a trey with 28 seconds left to forge a 15-15 tie after one. Shaw scored seven of his 11 points in the opening eight minutes.
In a sign of things to come, Krohne (18 points) buried a pair of second-period 3s to put the Rockets up 24-18, but Annawan was able to answer, scoring the final six points of the half to forge another tie. A bucket by Buresh (12 points, eight rebounds, three assists) with 58 seconds left knotted the score at 24-24.
"We played really, really hard. I can't say that enough," said Annawan coach Alex Coppejans, whose club finishes with a single-season school record for victories. "It characterizes our team that we had to battle the entire game. These guys worked so hard and executed really well on the offensive end. There wasn't much we could do to limit them defensively."
In the third period, Krohne and Payten Harre (14 points, eight rebounds) combined to knock down five treys, helping fuel the Rockets' 10-1 opening run. Okawville hit eight of 14 from 3-point range in addition to draining 19 of 22 free-throw attempts.
"I was taking one after the other, and they kept falling down," said Krohne. "I was feeling it, I guess."
"Hitting eight of 14 3s, that's pretty good for a state final," added Okawville coach Jon Kraus. "We got hot in the third quarter, and that gave us space to do the things we wanted to do."
Down the stretch, Landwehr tried to ignite the Braves' rally, scoring half of his game-high 20 points in the final period. Unfortunately for him and his teammates, a comeback and a state championship were not to be on Saturday.
"We knew it'd be tough but that we could do it if we stayed together," he said. "We've come back from deficits like that before, and we knew we'd have to grind it out. Unfortunately, we couldn't pull off the comeback."