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Valiant Prospect falls short against top-seed Glenbrook N.
By Marty Maciaszek | Daily Herald Staff

Prospect assistant coach Brad Rathe walks off the floor with his arm around Jason Leblebijian after the Knights' 55-50 loss to Glenbrook North boys in Class 4A sectional semifinal play Tuesday at Niles North.


Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Prospect's Kevin Matkovic angles in front of Glenbrook North's Jordan Schmidt on Tuesday at Niles North.


Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/11/2009 12:01 AM

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Prospect appeared to be running out of time and energy when it called a timeout with 3:06 to play Tuesday night.

The fourth-seeded Knights had been fighting an uphill battle since midway through the third quarter against top-seeded Glenbrook North before a packed house in the Class 4A Niles North boys basketball sectional semifinal in Skokie.

And they were staring at an 8-point deficit when second-year coach John Camardella looked into his players' eyes on the bench.

"Initially, I saw very tired players and kids who had run through 100 screens in a hot gym," Camardella said. "At that timeout I said, 'We're not going out like this.'"

The re-energized Knights went out and scored 7 straight points as they tried to pull off a stunning comeback. But Glenbrook North (22-4) survived by hitting 4 free throws in the final 20.7 seconds to win its 13th straight game 55-50.

"When we got back into it, with the momentum going our way, I felt we could have pulled it off," said Prospect senior guard Jason Leblebijian. "All we needed was one more stop."

The Spartans, who got a game-high 27 points from junior Alex Dragicevich on 10-for-17 shooting from the field and 4-for-5 on 3-pointers, were able to stop a late rash of turnovers to advance to Friday's 7:30 p.m. title game.

They'll face the winner of today's 7:30 p.m. semifinal between No. 3 Notre Dame (19-8) and No. 7 Glenbrook South (17-11).

"That was very uncharacteristic of us," Glenbrook North coach Dave Weber said of 4 of his team's 19 turnovers on successive possessions in the final 2:13. "They did a nice job and they had nothing to lose. They weren't in the bonus and we got tentative."

A 12-1 burst that lasted a little more than two minutes in the third quarter gave the Spartans a 40-29 lead they never lost. An off-balance drive by Dragicevich made it 51-43.

Then Prospect (21-8) came out and turned up the heat in one last-ditch effort to reach its first sectional final since 1991.

"Down eight with 21/2 (minutes) left, the season's on the line and we had a lot of fight coming out," said Prospect junior point guard Joe LaTulip, who was held to 2 of his 13 points after halftime by Connor Nass and Matt Merrigan. "We just picked up the pressure and were going for every ball. We had active hands and it worked a couple of times."

LaTulip found junior Jack Redding (9 points, 10 rebounds) for a top-of-the-key 3 at 1:38 off a miscue. Leblebijian's steal and layup at 1:12 cut it to 51-48.

"After that steal I knew we had a real chance to come back," said Prospect senior Kevin Reed.

Which the 6-foot-7 Reed (13 points, 8 rebounds, 5 blocks) made even more realistic with his lane drive to get the Knights within 51-50 with 41 seconds left.

Jordan Schmidt hit 2 free throws in a bonus situation with 20.7 seconds left for the Spartans. Prospect called time set up a play for its top 3-point shooters, Leblebijian (6 points) and LaTulip, off baseline screens in the corners.

The Spartans took away those options and Reed fired a 3 from the top of the key. He had to adjust when the ball slipped off his fingers just before he released the shot and it hit the front of the rim with 10 seconds left.

"We said we're living or dying with Joe or 'Leb,'" Camardella said. "It's a credit to them they were able to deny that extra look."

Dragicevich got the rebound and with 5.5 seconds left sealed it with 2 free throws as the Spartans finished 7-for-8 to the Knights' 7-for-15.

"It comes to a point where you say, 'We've worked too hard, we're going to get a stop this possession," Dragicevich said. "That's basically what it's about. You have to do it for your teammates."