GENOA – The Sycamore boys basketball team was a blink away from having its season come to an end.
However, thanks to some good fortune and a pair of clutch free throws by a senior, the Spartans’ wild postseason ride marches on.
Sycamore senior forward James Marcinkowski came up with a timely offensive rebound and turned it into two free throws with 0.1 seconds left in the game Tuesday in the Spartans’ dramatic 36-35 victory over Belvidere in a Class 3A Genoa-Kingston Sectional semifinal.
“I had no clue how much time was left,” Marcinkowski said. “I just grabbed a rebound and threw it up there and got fouled. ... This is by far my favorite basketball memory – not even close.”
Neither team led by more than four points in the second half to set up the thrilling final minute of the game. With the Spartans (14-15) trailing, 32-31, Sycamore senior forward Keyshawn Stallworth came up with a three-point play with 57 seconds left. After a pair of empty possessions for both teams, Belvidere senior Austin Revolinski nailed a 3-pointer at the top of the arc with 14.7 seconds remaining to give the Bucs a 35-34 lead.
Sycamore senior forward Ty Sulaver, who scored a game-high 12 points, missed two midrange jumpers in the closing moments, and Marcinkowski grabbed the rebound on the second miss and was fouled with 0.1 left on the clock. After narrowly making the first attempt – it bounced off the rim and rolled in – Belvidere (17-14) called timeout with the score tied at 35.
“We had a free-throw shooting contest during practice a couple weeks ago and he took second place, so he knew he could make them,” Sycamore coach Ryan Picolotti said. “We just tried to get him to relax and he told the coaches, ‘I got this.’”
Marcinkowski, who finished with eight points off the bench, swished the second attempt – causing the Sycamore crowd to erupt in cheers.
For many of the key Sycamore players, a dramatic postseason run is nothing new. Sulaver was the quarterback for the Spartans football team that advanced to the Class 5A semifinals, and Marcinkowski and senior Jack Mizgalski were both major contributors for the baseball team that made the Class 3A supersectionals last season.
“It’s just like football, I don’t know how to explain it,” Sulaver said of the postseason run. “It just happens. You’re used to big games, so when you get in an atmosphere where the whole gym’s packed, you’re used to that.”
Sulaver made a major impact in the first half, scoring six of his 12 points in the second quarter – including back-to-back jumpers in the high post against the Belvidere zone that gave the Spartans the biggest lead of the night, 19-12, with 1:05 remaining in the half.
For the Spartans, it’s the second consecutive low-scoring, one-point victory. In the Class 3A Sycamore Regional championship, the Spartans topped Kaneland, 37-36, in overtime.
“At the end of the day, you survive and advance and that’s what we did,” Picolotti said.
By the numbers: Stallworth finished with nine points and seven rebounds, Mizgalski had four points and eight rebounds, and senior guard Jordan Tolzin made a 3-pointer in the second quarter. Belvidere senior Xavier Dent scored a team-high 10 points.
Beyond the stats: Marcinkowski’s free throws were just two of four attempts for Sycamore at the foul line – all coming in the fourth quarter. While the Spartans went 3 for 4 from the line, the Bucs were 9 for 11 on free throws.
They said it: “We talked before we came out, I said, ‘How many big games have we been in?’” Picolotti said. “Our baseball team made a run last year, our football team made a run. We got guys who have been in big games and we have seniors who have been in big games. I said, ‘You’ve been here before. Just play your butts off.’”
Up next: The Spartans play the winner of Glenbard South and Marengo, which play at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The sectional championship is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Genoa-Kingston.