From sweet to elite: Metamora boys basketball advances to Class 3A Elite Eight

Adam Duvall
Journal Star

PEORIA — As Tyson Swanson gave a postgame interview, Jake Nelan came over with the freshly cut net.

“This one’s for you,” the Metamora senior yelled, putting the nylon over his junior teammate’s head.

Very fitting Swanson sported the net necklace following his fourth-quarter performance in Metamora’s 68-64 win over Rock Island in Class 3A Peoria Sectional at Renaissance Coliseum on Friday.

The No. 10-ranked Redbirds (27-6) now head to the Ottawa Supersectional at 7 p.m. Monday and face Wheaton St. Francis (27-8) for a spot in the state finals.

Metamora's Tyson Swanson, holding the ball, celebrates with his teammates and fans after the Redbirds defeated Rock Island 68-64 for the Class 3A Peoria Sectional title Friday, March 4, 2022 at Renaissance Coliseum.

Swanson, a 6-foot-2 forward, scored 10 of his team-high 22 points in the final eight minutes as Rock Island constantly chipped away at what was once an 18-point third-quarter Metamora lead. Four times in the frame — including three on the Redbirds’ first four possessions —  he found himself almost wide open under the basket.

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“My teammates were just finding me,” Swanson said. “We had really good team chemistry tonight. We were playing hard, and I was open. They were hitting me.”

Every time his lay-ins gently bounced off the backboard and down through the hoop, the crowd of Metamora faithful erupted.

Rock Island (22-10), though, wasn’t giving up despite Swanson’s fourth basket putting Metamora ahead 56-50 at the 4:14 mark of the fourth. Over the next 3 minutes, 16 seconds, buckets by four different Rocky players — Baker Beal, Marieon Anderson, Amarion Nimmers and Camerson Atkinson — brought them within 64-62 and under a minute to play.

However, a 4-for-5 effort from the free-throw line by Swanson and Ethan Kizer in the last 55 seconds set the final score and sent Metamora to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2018.

Metamora players, fans and coaches celebrate the Redbirds' 68-84 win over Rock Island in the Class 3A Peoria Sectional title game on Friday, March 4, 2022 at Renaissance Coliseum on the Bradley University campus in Peoria.

“He’s kind of the silent assassin,” Metamora Danny Grieves said of Swanson. “He doesn’t look like much through the airport, but then he turns up another double-double. … Guys like that make me a much better coach.”

In the third quarter, the Mid-Illini Conference champions appeared easily headed for a clean season sweep of Rock Island — a 65-44 victim to the Redbirds on Dec. 28. Sophomore Tyler Mason’s basket gave Metamora a 44-26 advantage with just under four minutes to play in the third.

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But Rocky went on a 14-4 push to close out the quarter and trail 48-40 to set up the exciting final period.

“That was a pretty good defensive stand by Rock Island,” Grieves said. “They came at us. Our guys just held on. They never totally panicked. We just kept getting easy buckets at the end. … I was really proud of their resilience.”

Metamora, which won its 16th in a row, shot 62.7 percent (27-for-43) with Mason scoring 16 points on a 7-of-9 outing from the field.

Metamora's Ethan Kizer, facing, consoles Rock Island's Marieon Anderson after the Redbirds' 68-64 victory in the Class 3A Peoria Sectional title game on Friday, March 4, 2022 at Renaissance Coliseum on the Bradley University campus in Peoria.

Kizer added 12 points, six rebounds and three charges taken. His final offensive foul drawn came in a key fourth-quarter moment when Rocky was building momentum and trailed by six.

“They like to drive, so I was just sliding over,” the 6-foot-6 junior said. "They weren’t jump-stopping and passing, so they were trying to score, so I just slid over and took it.”

Three Rock Island players scored in double-figures with Beal leading the way. The 6-foot-5 senior forward scored a game-high 26 on 12-for-13 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds.

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Marieon Anderson added 15 points and five rebounds, while Amarion Nimmers tossed in 13 for the Rocks, who shot 26-for-49 (53 percent) and committed no third-quarter turnovers and just six for the game.

Adam Duvall is a Journal Star sports reporter. Email him at aduvall@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.