Right place, right time: Intercepted pass seals sectional title for SHG boys basketball

Ryan Mahan
State Journal-Register
Zack Hawkinson celebrates after drawing a foul during the overtime period during Sacred Heart-Griffin's Class 3A Danville Sectional championship game against Decatur MacArthur on Friday, March 4, 2022. SHG won the Danville sectional title in overtime, 55-53.

DANVILLE — Zack Hawkinson knew where the ball was going and he got there.  

With 8.3 seconds left in overtime and trailing by three points, Decatur MacArthur tried to inbound the ball to shooter Brylan Phillips for a look at a game-tying 3-pointer. 

But Hawkinson stepped in front of Phillips to pick off the sideline pass, got fouled and made both of his free throws as Sacred Heart-Griffin beat MacArthur 55-53 to win the Class 3A Danville Sectional title on Friday. 

“I was guarding (MacArthur’s Krystopher Walker), and I knew he was a non-shooter and I saw Brylan lined up on the opposite side so I knew it had to be coming to him because he had made (four 3s to that point),” Hawkinson said. “I might as well just go jumping because it's alright; we can afford a 2, just not a 3. So that's why I just stepped out and the ball came right in my hands.” 

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Sacred Heart-Griffin (32-3) will face East St. Louis (27-5) in the 3A Springfield Supersectional at the Bank of Springfield Center at 7:30 p.m. Monday. The Flyers (27-5) beat Chatham Glenwood 56-47 in the 3A Highland Sectional championship game on Friday night.  

Mike Utinske hoists Sacred Heart-Griffin's Class 3A Danville Sectional championship plaque with his team on Friday, March 4, 2022 after SHG beat MacArthur in overtime, 55-53.

It will feature two state-ranked teams. East St. Louis was ranked No. 2 in the final Associated Press Class 3A poll, while SHG was ranked No. 6. Of the top six teams, No. 1 Chicago Simeon is the only one still alive in the postseason.  

The game didn’t play out anything like the previous two meetings between SHG and MacArthur during the Central State Eight Conference season. On Jan. 7, SHG went to Decatur and came home with an 84-69 win. On Feb. 8, MacArthur visited Jim Belz Gymnasium and SHG won 75-59. 

“Beating teams three times in a row (is hard),” SHG junior guard J’veon Bardwell said. “I mean, we’ve done it three times now (Springfield High and Lanphier to win the SHG regional) but we knew this time would be probably the one of the toughest teams we played all season.” 

But SHG’s advantage in the regular-season games — its inside game — was minimized by a defensive adjustment by MacArthur coach Terise Bryson, as well as the natural growth of 6-foot-6 junior Makhi Wright. 

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“Our big guy got a lot better since then,” Bryson said of Wright. “It's his first year playing varsity basketball; he grew 6 inches over the summer.” 

SHG coach Tim Allen didn’t hold back in praise for the Generals (25-8). 

“That's one of the best teams in the state,” Allen said. “They don't have 25 wins for no reason. They're well-coached, disciplined and they’ve got one of the best backcourts in the state. I knew it was going to be a dogfight — it was a 50-50 game. I'm glad that we came out on top.” 

Sacred Heart-Griffin's Zack Hawkinson hangs on the rim after a dunk in the fourth quarter of SHG's 55-53 overtime win over Decatur MacArthur in the Class 3A Danville Sectional on Friday, March 4, 2022.

Hawkinson, who does much of his scoring from down low, didn’t score in the paint until a dunk with 3 minutes, 58 seconds left in regulation when Wright slipped as Hawkinson cut. That gave SHG a 45-43 lead. Hawkinson’s previous six points came on a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter. 

Jabryn Anderson tied the game with a layup with 2:48 left and the two teams intentionally ate the clock but neither scored.  

In overtime, Walker scored a layup on a baseline drive before SHG’s Jake Hamilton and Hawkinson scored in the paint to put SHG up 49-47.  

KeShon Singleton gave SHG a four-point lead with a pair of free throws with 36.3 left. Walker hit a pair to pull MacArthur within 51-49 and Anderson split a pair to get the Generals within one.  

But Singleton hit two more free throws with :11.5 remaining before Hawkinson’s tie-saving steal. He calmly sank the free throws and MacArthur’s Phillips pulled up just inside the half-court line and drained a deep 3 for the two-point margin as time expired. 

“Yeah, I missed (a free throw with 55 seconds left in OT) and I was a little frustrated,” Hawkinson said. “And it was in the back of my head, like I got to finish this game; I got to close this game out for my teammates. I stepped up to the line, took a deep breath, did the free-throw routine and knocked it down.” 

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Hamilton led SHG with 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting. MacArthur’s interior defense forced Hamilton to go to his bag of tricks with turnarounds, leaners and other moves in order to get the shot. His only missed came on a 3-point attempt in the third.  

Sacred Heart-Griffin's Jake Hamilton defends the Generals' Makhi Wright. SHG beat Decatur MacArthur 55-53 in overtime to win the Class 3A Danville Sectional title on Friday, March 4, 2022.

Hawkinson and Will Hamilton both finished with 12 points. But the Hamilton twin juniors both fouled out in overtime. 

“While they were in the game, they did everything they could,” Hawkinson said of Will and Jake Hamilton. “I’m proud of them.” 

Jake Hamilton said it was drilled into the players since the sectional semifinal win over Champaign Centennial on Wednesday that the team needed a better performance. 

“The goal going in this game was getting 100% effort that was written on the board,” Hamilton said. “It was said in practice every time ... because we felt like we weren't giving it 100% the last few games. 

“So this game was huge to come out like that.” 

Contact Ryan Mahan: 857-246-9756, ryan.mahan@sj-r.com, Twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR.