CHAMPAIGN — The little program that could nearly did.
With one quarter left, St. Thomas More held the upper hand Saturday on the state’s No. 1-ranked Class 4A girls’ basketball team.
As it turned out, there would be no stunning upset. Linnae Harper saw to that.
The USA Basketball standout scored 12 of her game-high 23 points in the final eight minutes to propel Chicago Whitney Young to a 60-51 victory against the top-ranked Class 2A Sabers.
“She took over in the fourth quarter,” STM coach Chris Mennig said. “Great players, when the lights are on, do that.”
This David versus Goliath matchup filled the stands — “As many people as I’ve ever seen in the gym,” Mennig said — and attracted at least five Division I college head coaches or assistants, including Illinois’ Matt Bollant and Michigan State’s Suzy Merchant.
“It was a great environment,” said Mennig, in his seventh season at STM. “Seven years ago, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined this program getting to play Whitney Young, nonetheless competing against them. Just a proud day, a proud moment for our school, our program, and all our alums.”
The Sabers (19-2) led by two points entering the fourth quarter before the Dolphins (15-3) scored 18 of the final 25 points.
“We came up short for about three possessions in the fourth quarter and that, I thought, changed the game,” Mennig said. “Against a program like that, you’ve got to be able to put the ball in the hole.”
Lexi Wallen led the Sabers with 21 points, while freshman teammate Tori McCoy finished with a double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds).
This won’t be the last time these two teams meet. STM, which had its school-record 16-game winning streak halted by the Dolphins, is scheduled to visit the Chicago powerhouse next season.
“Our kids definitely aren’t hanging their heads at all,” Mennig said. “They’re looking forward to the chance to go back up there next year.”