When Mundelein's boys basketball team views the tape of its sectional semifinal against St. Viator, while perhaps searching for one more assist for Sean O'Brien, the Mustangs will surely note how they guarded.
"Defense was the key to everything," O'Brien said. "If we got stops, that's what would lead to our offense."
Final score of Wednesday night's lightning-fast Class 4A state playoff game at Barrington: Mundelein 92, St. Viator 88.
"I know," O'Brien said with a smile and a roll of the eyes. "I think our transition 'D' was a little better."
That No. 3 Mundelein was barely better means the fast-moving Mustangs are on the move again. They'll take a 26-7 record into Friday's 7:30 p.m. sectional final against top-seeded Warren. In the teams' two North Suburban Conference Lake Division games during the regular season, Warren won 61-45 and 87-78.
Mundelein dispatched No. 2 St. Viator (25-4) thanks to a game- and career-high 29 points and 12 rebounds from 6-foot-3 leaper Chino Ebube (3 dunks), Robert Knar's 25 points and O'Brien's near-triple-double. The 6-5 junior totaled 24 points, 14 rebounds and 9 assists.
Ebube had 17 points, including a pair of slams, in the opening half in helping Mundelein open a 17-point lead.
"Chino, in the first half," Mustangs coach Dick Knar said, "was a monster.
"Sean was really looking for him and Robert, and we got some leak-outs."
Mundelein was nearly as scary good as Ebube in the first half, shooting 63 percent (20 of 32) from the floor and taking a 49-35 advantage into the break.
"We had to come ready against these guys," Ebube said. "It was a tough win."
Kevin Walsh was sensational in his final game for St. Viator, as the 6-3 senior led the Lions with 28 points, including seven 3-pointers. He was 6 of 8 from beyond the arc in the second half to help get St. Viator back in the game and even take a couple of brief leads in the fourth quarter.
"It was a great atmosphere," Walsh said. "We had a ton of fans come out. I appreciate all of them. The whole year they've been supporting us. It was great. This was probably the fastest game we've played in. We love the up and down. (Mundelein) loves the up and down. We were just going back and forth."
Walsh scored 14 points in the fourth, including back-to-back 3s within 27 seconds of each other. Both treys were with the long-armed and athletic O'Brien in Walsh's face, with the second putting the Lions up 67-65 with 7:04 to go. Walsh's 3 free throws pulled St. Viator within 90-85 with 29.2 seconds left.
"I struggled in the first half (2-of-7 shooting)," Walsh said. "I missed a lot of open looks. But my coach and teammates told me to keep shooting. I got hot in the second half. It was nice to be in the zone."
St. Viator outscored Mundelein 24-13 in the third to pull with 62-59. But Mundelein would prove to be equally resilient.
"It was a great first half," said Dick Knar, whose worn-out voice was barely audible. "Ugly third quarter. I'm just proud that we overcame being down."
A nip-and-tuck fourth saw St. Viator take its second lead of the quarter on a basket by Kevin Hammarlund (14 points) with 2:19 left, but O'Brien answered immediately by banking in a baseline shot. Then Knar hit 2 free throws and a clutch step-back 14-footer with 1:04 left to make it 87-82.
"We knew they had one last good push in them," O'Brien said of the Lions. "We panicked a little bit. They cut it down to two and then they took the lead, but I just told my guys, 'It's two points. We've been down by 10 before and came back and won. Two points is nothing. Let's just keep our composure. Let's be patient.' "
St. Viator trailed 90-85 after the usually automatic Knar, with 24.2 seconds left, missed both of his free throws for the second time in the fourth quarter. But O'Brien stole the ball and soared in for a breakaway dunk to make the margin seven.
It was just his fourth dunk this season, by his count.
"I've actually missed a lot, back of the rim, bouncing toward half court," O'Brien said with a laugh. "My coach is always yelling at me to lay it in, but I had to dunk that one."
St. Viator still wasn't done, as Hammarlund banked in a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left, but the Mustangs safely inbounded the ball to Knar and ran out the clock.
Ore Arogundade added 21 points and 7 rebounds for St. Viator. Chris Myjak had 14 points and 12 rebounds.
"I'm proud of the way we responded in the second half," St. Viator coach Mike Howland said. "That wasn't us in the first half. I pleaded with them that if we were going to go down tonight that we wanted to go down punching and swinging. And I thought they stepped up. It was a great comeback. We just couldn't get the big stop when we needed it. Credit (Mundelein). Some of those kids made some really tough shots when they needed to."