SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Meyers Leonard put a huge exclamation point on Robinson’s first ever trip to the Class 2A IHSA boys basketball state finals and first state finals trip since 2002.
The 7-footer had the ball on the dribble near halfcourt and saw wide-open space, and Leonard leaped off one foot from about 10 feet away and posterized Decatur St. Teresa defender Matt Moran. More importantly, Leonard put the Maroons ahead 66-49 with 5:19 to go in the fourth quarter on the way to an 81-60 victory in the Springfield Super-sectional.
“Just about halfcourt I saw the lane. First of all, this guy’s already talking trash. So I was like ‘if he was going to try taking a charge, I’m going right over him’ and I did,” Leonard said.
“That was amazing, I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Robinson senior guard Austin Siler, who added eight points, including Robinson’s only two 3-pointers.
The dunk was one of several in the game by Leonard, a University of Illinois signee who put on a show for his future coach Bruce Weber, who sat courtside.
But Robinson showed why they’re state bound, because of a great supporting cast around Leonard.
Six-foot senior guard Ben Jones scored 20 of his game-high 29 points in the second half, hitting 7 of 12 from the field in the final 16 minutes. Jones also used his strength to get to the foul line, where he knocked down 11 of 12 attempts.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world right now. I can’t even explain it. We went to state in eighth grade, but that’s not even close,” Jones said amid post-game celebrations.
Behind a one-handed slam 3-point play by Leonard, Robinson started the second half on a 9-2 run, and then Jones provided two 3-point plays in a span of three minutes to initiate a 7-0 spurt. Jones took big upper-body contact on the second one to put his team ahead 48-39 with 4:05 left in the third after drilling a fadeaway jumper from mid-range. Jones rebounded his own miss and converted to make it 50-39, and senior guard Derek Hannahs added a layup for two of his 19 points to cap the run.
“They really got up in my chest,” Jones said of the Bulldogs’ aggressive defense. “If they get close to me, I’m going to take the opportunity go to the lane and do what I do best and get to the basket. That’s what I do all year long, I go in strong, I don’t go in timid. I go in strong, looking for that and 1.”
Decatur St. Teresa kept within 12 at the end of the third quarter, getting outscored 24-10 during that decisive period.
Jones and Leonard provided the daggers early in the fourth. Cody Chamblin made a steal and Jones missed a layup chance but hustled down the errant shot and converted. Then Leonard finished inside to put his team up 18, and Jones pulled up for a 17-footer. St. Teresa pulled within 15 at 64-49 before Leonard’s dunk stole any momentum the Bulldogs had back to the Maroons’ side.
“It’s a win for the program, not just for this team,” Robinson coach Bob Coffman said. “This is something people dream about since they’re six or seven years old. Now we’re there, and we want to go and do something with it.”
Robinson fell behind in the early minutes, the Maroons stayed composed to pull within 18-15 at the end of the first quarter. Jones picked up his second foul with 5.6 seconds left in the opening quarter, however, forcing Coffman to sit him.
But when St. Teresa pulled ahead 25-17 with 5:02 to go in the first half, Coffman got his star guard back on the court in a hurry. Jones responded with a spinning runner to make it 25-19.
“He’s a big part of our gameplan and our team. He had to go back in and play smarter. We made some adjustments with matchups, and we end the half on a run to get within two,” Coffman said.
“I thought we got some things done to get us in a position to make a really aggressive run in the second half.”
Robinson finished the first half on a 12-6 run, Jones cutting it to five when he rebounded a missed free throw by Leonard and scored, drawing the foul as well.
Robinson held St. Teresa to 11-for-38 field-goal shooting in the second half after the Bulldogs shot a blistering 59.1 percent in the first half.
St. Teresa had won 29 straight games going into Tuesday’s game. Preston Shelley struggled from the field (2-for-14), and the Bulldogs only got to the free-throw line 12 times.
“We just couldn’t get to the foul line, couldn’t get the calls,” St. Teresa coach Bill Ipsen said. “We couldn’t get the outside shots to fall tonight, and they’ve fallen earlier in the year. And Robinson’s a good team.”