The Leo Lions earned their first trip to the state basketball tournament since 2009 by beating Brimfield 55-51 in the DeKalb Class 1-A Supersectional at Northern Illinois University on Tuesday, March 8.
The Lions (23-8) will face Woodlawn (29-3) in a semifinal game at Bradley University’s Carver Arena in Peoria at 2 p.m.on Friday, March 11. LeRoy (26-5) will oppose Liberty (29-4) in the first semifinal at 12:15, with the winners meeting Saturday at 2 for the state championship.
The Brimfield game was a back-and-forth battle from start to finish as the defending state champs used exceptional three-point shooting to offset Leo’s 38-19 rebounding advantage. A Darius Branch three-pointer cut Brimfield’s four-point lead to a point with just under three minutes remaining. Then Darias Oliver got loose along the baseline for a bucket that put the Lions back on top.
Branch’s two free throws made it a three-point game, but Brimfield got a free throw and retained ball possession on a controversial intentional foul call against the Lions with 18 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Brimfield ran a play that set up a wide-open look for a three-pointer and the lead, but the shot rimmed out. Corielle Robinson was fouled as he controlled the rebound, and he calmly made both free throws for the four-point margin of victory.
“I was really proud of the toughness and resilience we showed tonight,” Lions coach Shawn Frison said. “The state was our goal from Day 1. It’s a special feeling to still be playing this time of year.”
Oliver had 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting and took down 13 rebounds for the Lions. Branch added 15 points and six assists. Robinson overcame foul trouble and collected nine points and six rebounds, while Terrence Lee Jr. and Jamil Green contributed strong play off the bench.
“A great team win,” Frison said. “We got contributions from everybody.”
In Woodlawn the Lions will encounter a slightly taller version of Brimfield. Ross Owens, a 6-5 senior, is the Cardinals’ leading scorer (16.4), rebounder (6.2) and assist man (5.6), with more than half his baskets coming on three-pointers. Brett Harris, a 6-5 senior; Garrett Minks, a 6-4 senior; Austin Ballard, a 6-3 senior, and 5-10 junior Blake Wolleman round out the starting five.
March 8: IHSA Supersectional at DeKalb
Leo 55, Brimfield 51
March 11-12: IHSA state tournament
Friday: LeRoy (26-5) vs. Liberty (29-3), 12:15 p.m.
Leo (23-8) vs. Woodlawn (29-3), 2 p.m.
Saturday: Third-place game, 12:15 p.m.
State championship game, 2 p.m.