It was a long time coming.
Moline defeated Rock Island 51-43 in Wednesday’s Class 4A regional semifinal boys basketball game at United Township High School, ending a 15-game losing streak to the Rocks.
It was a relief for Moline head coach Sean Taylor, who was in a jovial mood following the game.
“There should be a TV show,” he joked. “’Fifteen is enough.’ Put Dick Van Patten on it.”
Moline (20-8), which struggled from the free-throw line in the two teams’ last meeting, going 14-for-27 in a 44-41 loss on Jan. 27, was nearly perfect from the foul line in sealing the victory. The third-seeded Maroons went 11-for-12 from the charity stripe in the final quarter to prevent a Rock Island comeback.
“The last time we played them, we missed a lot (of free throws),” said Moline sophomore Deonte Billups, who made all six of his free throws in the fourth quarter. “We didn’t want that to happen again.”
On the other hand, the Rocks flailed from the free-throw line, making just 5 of 15 in the contest and just 3 of 10 in the final quarter as they tried to claw their way back into the game.
“Obviously we had opportunities to stop the clock and score, and we didn’t take advantage of those,” Rock Island head coach Thom Sigel said.
Despite missing most of their foul shots, fifth-seeded Rock Island still had a chance late in the fourth quarter. Junior Randy Tucker knocked down a corner 3 and senior Jacob Ellis got a layup to trim the Moline lead, which had been as big as 11 points in the second half, down to three with two minutes to play. And after an Ellis steal, the Rocks had a chance to further cut into the lead, but Tucker stepped out of bounds along the sideline.
“We’ve been written off from early in the year, and I’m just proud of the fact that these guys just kept battling all year through adversity,” Sigel said. “They stuck together and won a conference championship. Even down to the end tonight we kept trying to do what we could to pull one out. It just wasn’t meant to be tonight.”
The Maroons were able to run some clock and get the ball into the hands of senior guard Nate Hurt, who made a pair of free throws to extend the lead to five with 40.7 seconds left. Hurt added an assist and a couple more free throws, then had a wide smile on his face as he dribbled the last few seconds off the clock.
“It means everything right now,” said Hurt, who finished with eight points. “We’ve been playing great basketball. Going into regionals, this is what we had to do. Knocking down those shots was huge for us.”
Billups scored 12 of his game-high 17 points in the second half, and he also pulled down nine rebounds. Sophomore Jeff McInnis had nine of his 11 points in the first half to help the Maroons get out to a 30-21 lead at the break.
“We came in as the underdogs, even though we had the higher seed,” Billups said. “They beat us, and they probably thought they were just going to dog walk us, but we came out and competed.”
Moline, a team which starts three sophomores, has now won seven straight games. And the Maroons advance to Friday’s regional final at United Township to face seventh-seeded Ottawa, a team they defeated 70-66 on Jan. 14.
“We’ve gotten better and better,” Taylor said. “I think Nate Hurt has done a great job of leading, and our young guys just kept on improving practice by practice. I think we’re certainly playing our best basketball right now, and we’re going to have to play great on Friday.”
Ellis and sophomore JaMir Price scored nine points apiece to lead Rock Island, which concludes its season at 15-12. The Rocks will lose seven seniors to graduation, including starters Ellis, Corey Freeman and Jerry Hacker.
“We have great guys, and we’re going to miss them, but we know they’re going to be successful in the future, too,” Sigel said. “They’re going to continue to do things to make our program proud.”