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Tyler Ulis forgot to wear a protective band for his tricky right wrist.
He went into the game suffering from turf toe that he had incurred during Thursday’s practice.
It would have shut down many players.
It only inspired Ulis.
“It was either win or go home, so you have to play your heart out,” Ulis said after leading Marian Catholic to a 71-60 victory over Homewood-Flossmoor in Friday’s Class 4A Thornton Sectional final.
The Spartans (28-2) will face Edwardsville in Tuesday’s Class 4A ISU Supersectional.
Ulis finished with 25 points, 18 of them in the second half. Terrone Parham was also clutch for Marian with 16 points (four three-pointers) and seven rebounds, Josh Cohn scored 12 points and John Oliver nine.
H-F (17-12) was led by Kendric Pryor (15 points) and Tai Odiase (13 points, 12 rebounds).
Rumors buzzed through the gym before the game about Ulis’ condition. He had actually caused some of them himself earlier in the day at school.
“I wore crutches to school and they took a picture of it and put it on Twitter,” Ulis said. “So they thought I wasn’t going to play.
“I couldn’t really get it going, couldn’t explode off of it, but as the game progressed and the adrenalin got running, I just came out and tried to play through.”
H-F played zone defense against the Spartans, and it worked well in the first half. The Vikings led early and often, with 6-8 senior Odiase and the 6-foot sophomore Pryor attacking underneath on offense.
Trailing by as many as seven and down 39-34 early in the third period, the Spartans finally took off when Ulis, Ki-Jana Crawford and Terrone Parham went back-to-back-to-back with threes.
Marian finished with five in the quarter and built a 55-46 advantage.
“The threes got us going, got a flow in the game got us used to the rim,” Parham said. “Tyler, he told me how to shoot the ball, so I made shots and stepped up.”
H-F didn’t really go away, battling back within 61-58 with two minutes remaining on a driving layup by Emmanuel Watts.
Ulis, however, was way beyond hesitation, losing the slight limp and going 10-for-10 from the free-throw line in the fourth period. Parham added a pull-up jumper as Marian scored on its final five possessions to pull away.
“We played about 20 minutes of really good basketball when you’ve got to play 32 if you want to beat a team of Marian’s talent,” H-F coach Jim McLaughlin said. “But we’re so proud of our guys.
“Four weeks ago, with everything that went on [with a possible sanction from the IHSA], our kids were rugged. They were tough, they were resilient. All the drama that went around the school, just to be able to say, ‘Hey, we made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 4A,’ is something I’m incredibly proud of.”