By Mike Grenier
---- — LAWRENCE — St. John’s Prep basketball coach Sean Connolly wasn’t concerned that his team would have an emotional letdown in the championship game of the IAABO Board 130 Classic here last night.
“No, it’s not that at all,” said Connolly, whose team had beaten powerhouse Central Catholic in the final seconds the previous night.
“I just think we’re playing a very good Lynn English team. That’s it right there.”
Connolly wishes he hadn’t been so prescient about the Bulldogs, who’ve been on fire in the second half of the season.
St. John’s Prep was on the verge of wrapping up the tournament title game and a 19-1 regular season record, but Lynn English’s unflappable junior guard, Fred Hogan, converted a hotly-contested drive with just two seconds left, lifting the Bulldogs to a wild 75-73 win.
Lynn English, whose roster is dominated by underclassmen, including three extraordinary guards in Stevie Collins, Erick Rosario and Hogan, will dive into the Division 1 North state tournament as a 15-5 team that nobody wants to play.
“I don’t want our kids to get cocky or anything,” said Lynn English coach Mike Carr, “but that’s 11 (wins) in our last 12 games. We feel we can play with anybody in the state tourney. We beat a really good St. John’s team tonight.”
St. John’s Prep should also feel good about itself heading into the postseason, but it did let this championship game slip away. The Eagles went on a 24-5 tear in the first half and led by as many as 14 in the second quarter, but it succumbed to English’s quickness and intense defensive pressure in the final two quarters.
Trailing 70-66 with 1:05 remaining, the Eagles scrapped their way back into it when sophomore southpaw Ben Judson (19 points, including five three-pointers) canned a three from the top of the key, narrowing it to 70-69.
The two teams traded free throws in the final minute and Lynn English had a tenuous 73-71 edge when Collins (tourney MVP; game high 28 points) made one of two foul shots with 23 seconds left.
Senior point guard Tyler Dooley (19 points), who had a magnificent two night stand here and earned a spot on the all-tournament team, seemingly came to the rescue for St. John’s when he hit a shot in heavy traffic to make it 73-all with 10 seconds left.
Lynn English had a timeout left but Carr didn’t take it. Instead, Hogan let his instinct take over and he was able to make a difficult shot to win it.
“I was looking to get fouled,” Hogan said of his excursion to the bucket. “There was contact, but the shot felt good as soon as it left my fingers.
“We were the underdogs for this entire tournament,” added Hogan. “Nobody thought we could beat Springfield Central (an 81-73 win in Sunday’s semifinal) or St. John’s Prep. We were able to beat the big boys to win this thing.”
Carr said it was pretty easy to pass up the timeout in the final seconds. He felt the Bulldogs had a better chance if they freelanced.
“We’re not at our best when we’re running sets,” said Carr. “We’re better off with a frenetic style, so that’s why I didn’t call a timeout. Hogan just made a great play.”
Overall, the Prep had an up and down game. The Eagles controlled it, 29-15, early in the second quarter. However, Lynn English climbed back into it with a 15-0 spurt and led 37-36 at intermission. The Eagles responded with an 11-0 run to start the third quarter and still led by eight, 56-48, early in the fourth period. But the Bulldogs were the stronger finishers.
“They’re really good and Hogan made a tough shot to win it,” said Connolly. “Collins, Rosario and Hogan are outstanding guards. Lynn English deserved the win, no question about it.”
On paper, anyway, the Prep is in an enviable position as it heads into the Division 1 North tourney as the top seed with an 18-2 record.
“It was a very good regular season,” said Connolly. “We won the Catholic Conference with an undefeated record. It was great to get 18 wins and the No. 1 seed (in the postseason). It was just a disappointing ending tonight.”