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Dunning’s FT help Grant past Vernon Hills
By Patricia Babcock McGraw | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/9/2013 12:47 AM

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Three-pointers were here, there and everywhere at Grant on Friday night.

The host Bulldogs hit a total of six 3-pointers while visiting Vernon Hills hit five of its own.

At one point in the second quarter, the teams combined to hit four straight shots from long distance, and five overall.

Yet, despite the importance that the triples played for both teams, it was a shot that was worth a single solitary point that made the biggest difference of all.

Junior forward Steve Dunning hit a free throw with 2.2 seconds remaining in the game to give Grant a 59-58 North Suburban Conference Prairie Division victory and send the home fans into an excited frenzy on senior night.

Dunning, who was fouled under the basket and missed his first attempt in the tie game, couldn’t have been more confident as he knocked down the second.

The win moves Grant, which has won four straight games, to 12-12 overall and 5-5 in the Prairie Division. Vernon Hills, which defeated Grant at its place earlier this season, drops to 9-13 overall and 5-5 in the division.

“The first one (attempt), I knew that all the pressure was on,” said Dunning, who finished with 9 points and had never before hit a game-winning free throw in his career. “It was a nervous feeling, nerve-wracking, but it’s also a moment that you’ve been dreaming about. Everyone wants to hit that game-winning shot.

“My teammates just settled me down for the second shot. They said, ‘You’re the man, you’re the man. You can knock this down. You do this in practice all the time.’ It calmed me down.”

Dunning, who hustled back on defense after hitting nothing but net on his second attempt, then intercepted a long Vernon Hills pass down court to seal the win as time expired.

“I knew he was going to make it,” said Dunning’s teammate Ryan Noda, who set up Dunning for his last-second heroics.

Vernon Hills had the ball with about a minute left and the scored tied at 58-58. The Cougars made two advances towards the basket, but were turned back each time by the Grant defense.

After calling a timeout with 32 seconds left, Vernon Hills set up to take another crack at the basket. But as the ball moved around the perimeter, Noda swiped at it, popped it in the air and came away with the steal. He barreled down the floor and eventually found Dunning in the paint.

“This is a big win, a big win for us,” said Noda, who finished with a game-high 18 points and was Grant’s biggest threat from 3-point range. He finished with 4 triples.

“This is four straight wins for us,” Noda said. “We keep getting better every game.”

The Bulldogs, not known as a 3-point shooting team in recent seasons, have gotten more proficient from long range with every game. They are actively looking for those shots now.

“The 3-pointers are huge for us,” Grant coach Wayne Bosworth said. “When you get guys spotting up and knocking those shots down, it makes the job for our big guys like Dunning and Keion Miller so much easier.”

With the Vernon Hills defense stretched more in the second half after Grant’s barrage of five 3-pointers in the first half, Miller went to work. He scored 14 of his 16 points after the halftime break.

“I can’t say enough about what Keion did in the second half,” Bosworth said. “He was playing so big inside.”

Vernon Hills senior forward Trenton Fulton was doing the same thing on the other end. He finished with a team-high 14 points while pulling down 9 rebounds.

The Cougars also got 13 points from senior forward TJ Flis and 11 points from senior guard Stephen Curry.

“There wasn’t really much more we could have done at the end,” said Fulton, who is just starting to find his rhythm after missing the first seven games of the season with a severe ankle sprain.. “(Dunning) made the free throw. We needed to be doing things earlier, like making our layups and free throws and being stronger with the ball.”

Vernon Hills and Grant are developing a strong rivalry. For the last five years, they have split their regular season series. And most games end up being close.

“This is a tough place to play but this was a fun game to coach. We have good games like this with Grant,” Vernon Hills coach Matt McCarty said. “It’s just tough for either team to win both games in our series each year. We had our chances, but we just made some mistakes and they made some really good plays at the end.”