RIVER GROVE — The play call was Oklahoma.
The Providence-St. Mel boys basketball team trailed Northridge by one point with 2.1 seconds remaining in Wednesday's Class 2A Guerin Sectional semifinal and had just called its final timeout. The team gathered around coach Tim Ervin and he instructed his squad to run Oklahoma, a play where the team's shooting guard comes off a screen and catches the ball for an open jump shot.
The play, which began with an in-bounds pass near mid-court, was run for senior Bernard Lilly Jr. Providence-St. Mel's point guard served as a decoy and Lilly came around a screen and caught the ball behind the 3-point line in the corner.
Northridge defended the play well — which was emblematic of the low-scoring affair — and forced Lilly to take one dribble to his left. He did so and quickly rose up and fired the ball from behind his head with his unique shooting motion.
The shot was pure. Game over. Providence-St. Mel 38, Northridge 36.
Providence-St. Mel chased its hero around the court immediately after he drained the 3-pointer, celebrating his shot and the fact that it had advanced to the sectional final.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” Lilly said.
That moment was full of pressure for Lilly. His high school career hung in the balance, and Providence-St. Mel (22-6) was limited offensively because senior standouts Josh McNeal and Tevin King had both fouled out earlier in the fourth.
“I was playing [out the end of the game] in my head with about a minute left, preparing myself for it,” said Lilly, who led his team with 12 points. “It's all about preparation. We do things like [run Oklahoma] in practice. That's why I shot so many shots this summer, for that moment right there.”
Lilly's end-of-game heroics — he also made a bucket with 9.5 seconds remaining to give Providence-St. Mel a 35-34 lead — earned his squad a date with Clark in the Guerin Sectional final, which tips at 7 p.m. Friday. Providence-St. Mel has won a sectional title in each of the last two seasons.
Northridge junior point guard Dylan Haig (16 points, four rebounds), who was sensational in dealing with Providence-St. Mel's ball pressure throughout the game, hit a pair of free throws to give his team a one-point lead with 3.7 seconds remaining. Providence-St. Mel then advanced the ball up the court and called a timeout to set up Oklahoma.
Haig stepped up with the game on the line, but Northridge missed some earlier opportunities. Coach Will Rey's squad missed five straight free throws in the contest's final 90 seconds – senior forward Steve Leazer missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and then Haig missed four in a row – before Haig drained a pair from the charity stripe.
Northridge (20-8) took a 34-30 lead with 2:46 remaining on a corner 3-pointer by Leazer, but it couldn't close out the game.
“We had many opportunities throughout the course of the last three minutes to get some distance between us and them,” Rey said. “We just didn't take advantage of them.”