Four days before March Madness began, the IHSA booted Uplift out of the playoffs for playing in one too many tournaments (four) during the regular season.
Forty-eight hours later, the IHSA flipped the script on its decision and allowed the Titans to play in the Class 3A playoffs until a better team knocked them out.
Wednesday night, Carmel was that better team.
Playing like a team determined to be in action the final day of this boys basketball season, the Corsairs beat Uplift 55-46 to earn a rematch against North Chicago in the sectional finals on Friday.
Uplift finished 25-5.
In the sectional finals a year ago, North Chicago beat Carmel 63-46. This year, the Corsairs (25-8) are looking for revenge.
If they’re 18 points better on Friday than last year, they’ll reach the Elite 8 of March Madness for the first time in school history. The milestone the Corsairs achieved Wednesday was a school record for wins in a season, topping the 24-6 team of 1984-85 that also reached the Sweet 16, though that was in the two-class era.
Jack George (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Billy Kirby (16 points) led the winners. A 14-5 second quarter that featured dominating rebounding by Carmel and unforced turnovers by Uplift, made it a 29-15 game at the half. The margin never got under 10 until the final minute when a late barrage of three-pointers got Uplift within 51-46. Two free throws by Kirby followed to kill any suspense.
“Setting a school record for wins is a huge accomplishment,” Carmel coach Tim Bowen said. “We’re not done, hopefully. We want to continue, and move on. We’re not bragging or anything, but it’s a great accomplishment for the boys. We’ve piled on so many things this year. We’ve been very fortunate to be a part of that. It’s so cool.”
The coach then rattled off things Carmel has done that has been unheard of at a school noted for sports other than basketball.
“We took first in the Crystal Lake (Thanksgiving) tournament,” Bowen said. “We took first at the Martin Luther King tournament at Lake Zurich. We took second at the Jacobs (Christmas) tournament. We had never had a 6-0 start in the history of the school. We now have a school-record 25 wins. Back-to-back Sweet 16s. That’s a load of stuff.”
As for the Carmel players, they expected to be right where they are now — gearing up for the rematch with North Chicago.
“We expected to be here, and we’re ready for Friday,” said George, who then explained the keys to a Friday night victory celebration.
“Both Uplift and North Chicago are smaller than us,” he said. “Pounding it down low over and over is one of the keys. When we do that, it’s tough for them to get out on the break. If we’re missing shots, they’re gone down the floor. When we take good, high-percentage shots, it slows teams like that down a little bit.”
Kirby agreed that Friday’s game is there for the taking.
“We expected going into the season to get to this point and compete for a sectional championship,” he said. “Last year ,we played our butts off and figured out how to get there, and this year we were able to do the same thing.”
“We know what to expect (against North Chicago) this year, and we have more experience. That will help us out a lot.”
Junior guard Jeremy Roscoe had 22 points, 16 in the second half to help rally the Titans. Star guard Quintin Olagbegi was smothered by Carmel’s defense and finished with 12 points.
Uplift was coached by assistant Antoine Allen, as head coach David Taylor was suspended by the IHSA for the violation of IHSA rules.
“We should have played aggressive from the start, and we fell behind, Allen said. “When you fall behind like that, it can be hard to get back. If we had
played more aggressively from the beginning, we’d have been in a better situation at the end.”