Niles West guard Ramsan Younatham wasn’t having his greatest game by any measure. He’d knocked down only one three-pointer and passed up a number of open shots late in the game.
But with his team trailing in the fourth quarter, the senior guard knew if his shot was there he had to take it.
Younatham got the opportunity and came through, knocking down a three-pointer from the right wing to put Niles West up by one point, 43-42, with 27 seconds left. He calmly sank two free throws on Niles West’s next possession and the Wolves escaped with a 45-42 upset victory over Loyola Academy in the IHSA Class 4A Des Plaines (Maine West) Regional semi-finals.
“I kind of moon-balled it too because I saw [Loyola forward] Mike Lang coming at me and he’s like 6-foor-7,” Younatham said. “So I shot a moon ball on it, but I guess it went in. I felt confident.”
Wednesday night’s game played out differently than the two teams’ regular-season matchup: A 64-52 Rambler win in December where Loyola dominated inside the paint. Much of Loyola’s size advantage was neutralized early on when senior center Jared Prince picked up his second foul less than three minutes into the first period. Prince would remain on the bench for the rest of the half and the Ramblers garnered only two offensive rebounds in the game’s first 16 minutes.
Niles West made three of its four attempts from beyond the arc and jumped out to a 15-11 lead after the first quarter despite committing six turnovers.
“We played with a lot more energy tonight and I felt like we believed we were going to win this game,” Niles West coach Bob Williams said. “We came in and played that way.”
Two free throws from Loyola forward Briggs King gave the Ramblers a 20-17 lead in the second quarter. But Loyola committed turnovers on its next three possessions and the Wolves took advantage, going into halftime up by two points, 25-23.
Ball-handling problems continued to plague Loyola. For the game, Niles West forced 17 turnovers. Despite Loyola’s mediocre play, the Ramblers pulled ahead in the fourth quarter when Lang and Prince started to assert themselves. The senior duo scored eight straight points for Loyola and the Ramblers had a four-point lead with three minutes to go.
“There were points in the game where we felt we really dominated on the perimeter and there were points where they were going inside at will,” Williams said. “We just persevered and got it done.”
Still leading by two points, King missed his free throw with 36.9 seconds left. On Niles West’s ensuing possession, Younatham knocked down his three-pointer from the right wing to put the Wolves up one. It was Niles West’s first made three-pointer since the first quarter, snapping an 0-for-11 streak.
“We just had a bad night,” Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino said. “We knew that this was going to be a tough matchup for us when we drew them. The credit really goes to Niles West; they beat us.”
Lang was fouled with 15.2 seconds remaining, but he too missed his first free throw with a chance to give Loyola the lead.
On their last possession, the Ramblers inbounded the ball to Lang, but his three-point attempt from the top of the arc was short.
Niles West advances to play Maine South in the regional finals on Friday night. Maine South beat the Wolves twice during the regular season.
“In one way it’s nice because they're similar in that they have some post players that are very concerning,” Williams said comparing Maine South to Loyola. “Their defense [2-3 zone] is something very different.”