With scoring leader Michelle Maher in foul trouble and center Jacqui Grant struggling with Proviso East’s length inside, Maine South found an unlikely source of offense in sophomore guard Mackenzie Duffy.
Typically the fourth option on a team filled with offensively capable players, Duffy scored nine points for Maine South in a three-minute stretch to help turn a five-point deficit into a three-point lead in the fourth quarter.
The Hawks played with poise down the stretch and wound up with a 42-37 victory over Proviso East to win the IHSA Class4A Chicago Super-Sectional and advance to the state semi-finals. Maine South will face Zion-Benton on Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal, IL.
"Who would have thought that a sophomore who's 5-foot-nothing, weighs 100 pounds and had five turnovers in the first half would be the catalyst tonight," Maine South coach Mark Smith said of Duffy.
Yet everything didn’t start out so smoothly on Monday night for Duffy and Maine South. The Hawks, who rely heavily on juniors and sophomores, appeared nervous at the start. Proviso East’s full-court pressure forced 11 first-half turnovers and Maine South had trouble executing their half-court sets.
Foul trouble came into play for both teams early as both teams’ centers -- Maine South’s Grant and Proviso East’s Jakeisha Wells – picked up two fouls in the first quarter and were forced to sit for a lot of the first half.
Even with Maine South’s turnover issues, Proviso East didn’t take advantage. Their six-point lead, 12-6, at the end of the first quarter was the Pirates’ largest lead of the game.
Maine South shot only 4-for-20 from the field in the first half, but stayed in the game with their defense and by getting to the foul line. The Hawks went 6-for-10 from the free-throw line and were only down three points at halftime.
“Three years ago on this court [vs. Whitney Young] we were down 24-14 [at halftime]; we scored the same number of points,” said Smith, whose team ultimately lost 49-32 in 2008. “Tonight we were down 17-14 and I said hey we are 7 points ahead of the game.”
Maine South wouldn’t let history repeat itself. They continued to attack the basket, not settling for jump shots. After receiving the ball in the post, Nina Duric executed a beautiful up-and-under to tie the game at 20-20 with five minutes to go in the third quarter.
The Hawks wouldn’t take their first lead until Duffy came through her late-game heroics. After knocking down a three-pointer and then burying two jump shots, Duffy converted a layup in transition to put the Hawks up by three.
“I definitely felt comfortable; I wasn’t nervous,” Duffy said. “I knew that we were down and I had to pick it up. Everybody contributed well at the end of the game.”
The Hawks wouldn’t surrender the lead from then on and put the game out of reach when Duffy found a cutting Grant on a well-executed backdoor cut from the top of the key.
“Usually that’s Nina [Duric]’s position, but I kind of just got caught up there,” said Grant, who usually operates in the post. “My girl just wasn’t used to it and it just worked. We’re very good at picking up people and figuring out where we should be.”
The game got physical near its end. Maine South’s Maher emerged with blood streaking down her face after being fouled hard and falling to the floor with just over a minute to go. She did not return to the game, but was all smiles in lifting another championship plaque.
Duffy's 12 points led the way for Maine South. Illinois recruit Ivory Crawford led Proviso East with 13 points.
Maine South last advanced to the state championship semi-finals in 2006. Zion-Benton, Maine South’s next opponent, defeated Geneva in the Barrington Super-Sectional.
“It’s just awesome. It’s a great experience,” Duffy said. “It’s a dream come true that we get to go downstate.