WASHINGTON — Morton was not in a sharing mood Friday night in the Mid-Illini Conference and regular-season boys basketball finale at Washington.
The Potters captured the outright Mid-Illini boys basketball title with a nail-biting 48-47 victory at the Panther Den, a year after beating the Panthers to force a share of the league crown.
“It’s just a great feeling,” said Morton senior forward Zach Byrne after the Potters rallied from a six-point deficit with five minutes left. “Nobody likes sharing. We came here and won an outright conference title. It’s always nice knowing you’re the best team in the conference.”
Morton (21-8, 13-1) trailed 38-32 when Washington’s Adrian Williams converted a three-point play with 5:11 left to end a 10-3 surge by the Panthers.
A pair of Jarett Crider free throws and a 3-pointer from Tucker Rugaard pulled the Potters within 38-37 with 3:57 remaining. Byrne, who finished with a team-high 11 points, countered a Williams bucket with another trey to tie the game at 40 with 3:06 left.
“We just needed a big play,” Byrne said of his triple. “They had a little run, so we had to make it back and from there we just wanted it more.”
Morton scored five unanswered points in the next minute and a half to go ahead 45-40 to cap a 13-2 surge, as Washington committed three turnovers, missed a free throw and missed a shot.
“We have to be better with the basketball in that situation,” Washington coach Kevin Brown said. “They were very good when they got in that situation late in the game. We didn’t treasure the basketball at that point in time. And we took some quick shots when we had the lead and the ball.”
Williams did what he could, scoring 12 of his game-high 16 points in the fourth quarter. His desperation 3-pointer with 10.7 seconds left pulled Washington within 47-45.
Crider, who was held without a field goal but made nine of 11 free throws, hit one of two from the line to make it 48-45 with 7.7 seconds left.
Morton opted to foul Washington, putting Kam Motteler at the line with 4.9 seconds remaining. Motteler missed the free throw, but Williams rebounded only to miss a putback. Washington’s J.J. Guedet followed with a tip-in with 2.2 seconds still on the clock.
Morton tossed the inbound pass to Byrne, who lobbed the ball in the front court to give the Potters the victory.
“It’s a testament to our guys,” Morton coach Matt Franks said. “Our seniors did a great job of leadership. When (Washington) got a lot of points there (early in the fourth), the doors could have easily been blown off and our guys stayed focused. That’s a very good team and we had to make plays at very opportune times and our guys were able to do that.”
Morton led by as many as eight in the first half, behind eight of Noah Steffen’s 10 points, before settling for a 23-17 halftime edge.
“They came out hungry,” Brown said. “The first half I just through they had more energy than we did. We let them get on their strengths and score and we didn’t have an answer for it.”
Adrian Ware, who scored 13, opened the third quarter with a trey to start Washington on a 9-2 spurt that gave the Panthers a 26-25 lead in the back-and-forth battle.
Stan Morris can be reached at 686-3211 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @stanmorrispjs.