FLORISSANT • Trevor Laney kept the fury in his back pocket. The McCluer North boys basketball coach waited for the right moment to unleash it. When he did, it nearly did the trick.
Chaminade escaped McCluer North 60-51 to claim the Class 5 District 7 championship Saturday at McCluer North.
But the Stars threw a scare into the Red Devils in the final minute.
Down by six with under a minute to play, Laney put the full-court pressure on Chaminade and the Red Devils turned the ball over on consecutive possessions. McCluer North cut the lead to 55-51 and senior guard Jeremiah Jackson stepped to the free throw line to shoot the one-and-one. He missed the first and in the scrum for the loose ball, McCluer North senior guard Dominic Erby called timeout and it was granted. Only the Stars were out of timeouts and were assessed a technical foul. Chaminade star guard Jayson Tatum stepped to the line and buried both of the technical free throws and then hit two more when he was fouled on the ensuing possession.
After holding a 52-41 lead with 1 minute and 53 seconds left in the game, everything tightened up, including the Red Devils.
“We broke down. We had defensive errors, people turning the ball over, especially me, that shouldn't be turning the ball over. We hit some free throws and bounced back,” Tatum said. “They were just pressing. We have to keep playing until the horn goes off.”
The No. 1 team in the STLhighschoolsports.com large schools rankings, Chaminade (22-3) advanced to play Lafayette at 6 p.m., Wednesday at Lindenwood.
McCluer North's season ended at 16-11.
The Stars didn't have the depth that would have allowed them to put that high pressure defense on for more than a short spurt. After Erby buried a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 55-49 with 51 seconds to play, Laney decided it was time to play his card.
“We let loose the press and we started blitzing. You can't do that a whole game on Chaminade,” Laney said. “We did have to wait to do it and when we did we got ourselves close.”
McCluer North held its own with Chaminade again. The first time these two teams played the Red Devils were in a slugfest and came out on top 55-47. This one was similar. The game was tied at 12 after the first quarter and Chaminade held a 24-21 edge at halftime.
The difference came in the third quarter. Chaminade junior post Tyler Cook became a human dunk machine. The 6-foot-9 Cook went to work in the paint and threw down several monster slams including a one-handed alley-oop from Tatum that brought the house down. He scored 10 of his 15 points in the third quarter as Chaminade extended its lead and held a 42-31 cushion after the period.
“They left me open and my teammates found me so I was able to get a lot of easy baskets," Cook said. "We talk about finding the open man and getting easy shots. A lot of people pay attention to Jayson for obvious reasons and I was able to get open and able to finish.”
Tatum was a force the Stars couldn't stop. He finished with a game-high 29 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and two blocks. He was 9 of 12 at the free throw line.
No one else had more than four points for the Red Devils.
McCluer North was unable to take advantage of a huge opportunity in the second quarter. Cook and Will Gladson went to the bench with two fouls each midway through the quarter. North senior post Demarco Owens, who was strong early in the game, wasn't able to get in a position to do much damage without the two 6-foot-9 monsters in the middle. Chaminade locked up defensively and shut down the Stars' points in the paint.
“We got them in a little foul trouble and we had a couple of possessions we didn't score in the first half and I thought we should have,” Laney said. “We missed a lot of free throws that would have kept us close.”
The Stars were 6 of 13 at the free throw line. Owens had 16 points, eight in the first half. Erby had 11 points and senior guard DeMonte Morris had 10 points. Jackson had eight.
“Our kids were tough, they kept fighting back,” Laney said. “We played our game plan and we did what we could. I thought we did a good job of executing that most of the game. But with a team like that, if you come up empty just a few possessions it's going to be the game.”
This district championship was a year in the making. After being knocked off by Ladue in last year's district title game at St. Louis U. High, the Red Devils were aiming to get back to this point and go forward. It wasn't easy, but Chaminade achieved one of its goals this season and has given itself a chance to continue its season.
“It's huge that we were able to get over this hump,” Cook said. “We're happy but at the same time we have a lot of work to do.”