DUBUQUE — Early in the fourth quarter, the Bettendorf student section began chanting "You can’t guard him, you can’t guard him."
They were talking about the Bulldogs’ DJ Carton. And they were right.
A favored Dubuque Senior club was finding it impossible to handle Bettendorf’s 6-foot-3 junior guard.
Unfortunately, it was the shots the Bulldogs attempted with no one attempting to guard them that proved to be the problem.
They missed six consecutive free throws at the end of regulation, and that allowed Dubuque Senior to escape with a 65-61 overtime victory over Bettendorf in a Class 4A substate semifinal Friday night at James Nora Gymnasium.
The Rams (18-4), who move on to face North Scott in the substate final, never really did find a way to completely stop Carton, who scored 36 points. But they did a good enough job on Carton’s cohorts and made enough free throws of their own to advance.
"DJ played well, and I knew that he would," Bettendorf coach Curtis Clark said. "Big-time players are ready for big-time games. That wasn’t a worry of ours. We just knew that we had to make some shots and defend the arc, and I thought we did all that.
"Give Senior all kinds of credit. They’re obviously an outstanding team, but I felt like we beat ourselves tonight."
Carton, who has worked out with all of Senior’s starters and considers all of them friends, scored 25 of Bettendorf’s last 28 points, and he got an assist on the one basket he didn’t score in that stretch. His seven 3-pointers equaled a career high.
"During the second half of the season I’ve been struggling shooting 3s so I knew I just had keep shooting and keep being aggressive down the stretch," Carton said.
After trailing by six (28-22) at halftime, the Bulldogs finally began crashing the offensive boards the way Clark wanted them to, and they fired in four 3s in the third quarter to open a lead. A pair of 3s by Phil Gist got them jump-started and they grabbed the lead in a sequence in which Devynn Wakefield and Oliver Bakeris got big offensive rebounds.
The Bulldogs (10-13) had a 53-47 lead after a pair of free throws by Carton with 3 minutes, 43 seconds remaining, but then they began to unravel at the foul line.
Wakefield missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and so did Carton. Wakefield missed two more foul shots with 1:39 to go, and Senior finally tied the score at 53 on two free throws by Nick Timmerman with 45 seconds left.
Bettendorf then ran the clock down, and, with the Rams blanketing Carton with defenders, sophomore Lucas Hayes went up for a shot under the basket and was fouled with 1.2 seconds remaining.
Hayes missed both free throws, and the game went to overtime.
Foul shooting was the story of the extra period, too. Senior went 10 for 10 at the line in the overtime with guard Carter Stevens making eight of them, and Bettendorf couldn’t quite keep up despite two more 3s by Carton.
Stevens finished the Bulldogs off by making two last foul shots with 4.2 seconds to go.
Timmerman led the Rams with 21 points, and Stevens added 17. Center Noah Carter finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Bettendorf shot 50 percent from the field after halftime and finished with 12 3-pointers, but Clark said he was more proud than happy.
"I really thought we did enough to win the game, and I feel really bad for our team and especially our seniors," he said. "I thought we executed everything we wanted to do both offensively and defensively."
"I felt like we played the game with pride and left it all out on the court," Carton added. "I’m proud of every one of us."