BLOOMINGTON -- When it matters most, the Rock Island boys' basketball team finds ways to make plays.
One particular possession on Friday night epitomized the Rocks' ability to deliver in the clutch.
With Chicago North Lawndale rallying with 90 seconds left in regulation, the Rocks thwarted the charge on a possession that ended with an uncontested layup. Junior point guard C.J. Carr's picture-perfect pass to senior forward Raahsaan Brown on the right block ended with an easy basket, punctuating Rocky's 69-61 win in the State Farm Holiday Classic semifinals at the Shirk Center.
"I felt I could beat their pressure and find open guys," said Carr, who tallied 10 assists on top of his 11 points as Rocky reached the tournament finals for the first time in 11 appearances. "I found open guys. They finished well."
Carr's final assist was the defining moment.
Damontre Enos' 3-pointer with 1:33 left in regulation cut the Rocks' lead to 63-57, forcing a critical possession when Rocky inbounded the ball. Calmly dribbling nearly the mid-court circle, Carr drove to the lane before finding Brown when the defense collapsed.
After catching the pass, Brown laid the ball through the basket, increasing the lead to 65-57 with 1:09 remaining. North Lawndale (6-5) never got the deficit below seven points the rest of the way.
"I wanted to find an open guy," Carr said. "Brown was open and he finished it."
That was the story of this game as the Rocks (11-2), who meet North Chicago in today's 5:10 p.m. final at the Shirk Center, distributed the ball well and took high-percentage shots.
Fifteen of Rocky's 26 field goals were assisted as it shot 56.5 percent from the field. Brown (16 points) and Rob Johnson (13) were the main targets on the assists, combining to go 13 of 16 from the field.
"C.J. made some great passes," Brown said. "He's a great point guard."
Great plays were made all over the court from every Rocky player who saw minutes. Using a seven-player rotation since sixth-man Keenan Shorter was out with an ankle injury, the Rocks had five players reach double figures.Brian Richardson and Trae Babers each had 10 points. The two-player bench of Babers and Bryce Jones combined for 14 points.
"That was a great game," Brown said. "We had a few lapses, but we responded."
For the second time in as many games, the Rocks responded in the clutch. One game earlier, it was Trey Sigel nailing a 3-pointer to help Rocky preserve a 62-50 quarterfinal win over Normal Community.
This time, it was Brown scoring off a Carr assist late in regulation.
"We always want to play through adversity," Carr said. "We want to keep battling and find ways to win."