SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Last year as a freshman, Jailen Billings earned a small amount of playing time on the Sioux City North varsity.
He was never placed in the position he was in Friday night.
With his team clinging to a one-point lead, Billings dominated the final 30 seconds, hitting 5 of 6 free throws and grabbing the biggest rebound of the game in the Stars’ 78-73 Class 4-A substate semifinal victory over Sioux City East before a large crowd at the North gymnasium.
“Jailen’s mature beyond his years,’’ North coach Cody Fisher said of the slender 5-foot-11 guard. “He made some big plays for us tonight. He’s made big plays for us all year.’’
Second-seeded North (13-9) advances to Tuesday’s 7 p.m. substate final at Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson against top-seeded Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln (19-3), a 75-57 winner over Council Bluffs Lewis Central.
Third-seeded East closed at 16-7. East and North have combined to earn the last 14 state berths from the Class 4-A western Iowa substate, with North earning the last two trips following a run of four straight by East.
“The better players won,’’ East coach Ras Vanderloo said. “As an opposing coach you hate to say stuff like that, but it’s true.’’
Nonetheless, East pressed North to the final horn. The Stars appeared ready to go up by eight with less than a minute to play, but Robert Neustrom missed a layup after a breakaway steal. Andre Harris nailed a 3 seconds later to make it 69-66 with 47.4 seconds left.
Xavier Scarlett split a pair of free throws to put North up 72-68 with 36.4 seconds remaining, but Harris drilled another 3 to trim it to one with 29.1 seconds showing.
Billings then took center stage. The 75-percent free-throw shooter was fouled, and he calmly sank both for a three-point lead with 27.1 seconds left. After East missed a 3-pointer, the smallest player on the court soared for the biggest rebound of the game in traffic.
“I saw that Austin (Ahrendt) had pretty good position on (Neustrom), so I wanted to make sure I could at least help him out a little bit by getting in there,’’ Billings said. “And luckily I got the ball.”
Billings was fouled after the rebound and made both free throws to push the lead to five with 20.5 seconds remaining. East got no closer than four the rest of the way.
All-stater Daniel Tillo, who led North with 23 points and 10 rebounds, said he had faith in young Billings.
“He’s never really been there before,’’ Tillo said. “I was just talking to him, saying, ‘Hey, this is your time.’ He had a huge rebound there, and I was like, ‘It’s time for you to put them in. I believe in you.’ And he went up there and put them in.’’
North outrebounded the Black Raiders 32-21.
“I think the whole game came down to rebounding,’’ Vanderloo said. “You’re never going to win a big game if you don’t rebound, I don’t care what level. They’ve got big, physical guys. Tillo and Neustrom are good-looking high school kids, big, strong kids. You’ve got to get a body on them.’’
The game featured a whopping 19 lead changes, including 13 in a wild first quarter that ended with a 25-24 North lead.
With about five minutes remaining and North leading by one, it became much more deliberate against East’s 2-3 zone, burning about three minutes off the clock on one possession to the frustration of the Black Raider crowd.
“Honestly, we didn’t call that from the bench,’’ Fisher said. “That was just something that they recognized they weren’t being guarded and we had the lead.’’
East eventually went man-to-man for the final two minutes, and Tillo had a basket and four free throws in a span of three possessions, setting up the finish.
“There were times tonight we couldn’t stop them because they were hitting a lot,’’ Fisher said. “But we felt like when they were manned up they couldn’t stop us, so it did draw them out of the zone and took time off the clock. People were upset about it, but I didn’t care.’’
Neustrom added 19 points for the winners, while Scarlett pitched in 17 and Billings contributed 15. Harris, an athletic 6-3 forward, scored a game-high 31 for East, including 21 in the second half.
North now gets a chance to run its string of state trips to three.
“We’re confident,’’ Tillo said. “We’ve been there. We’ve gone to state the last two years. We’re just telling everyone, ‘It’s not too big of a moment. Just go out and play your game and have fun.’ ’’
Sioux City East (16-7) ................................ 24 10 24 15—73
Sioux City North (13-9) .............................. 25 17 14 22—78
E: Alex Stueve 3-4 0-0 8, Connor Murrell 5-11 1-2 13, Austin Ahrendt 1-2 3-4 5, Jaylen Rees 5-8 4-4 14, Andre Harris 10-17 8-9 31, Ty Benson 1-3 0-0 2, Trevor Gausman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 25-45 16-19 73.
N: Xavier Scarlett 5-9 5-10 17, Jailen Billings 4-12 5-7 15, David Throne 1-2 0-1 2, Robert Neustrom 8-12 1-1 19, Daniel Tillo 8-16 6-6 23, Ko Noble 1-1 0-2 2. Totals: 27-52 17-27 78.
3-point goals: E 7-17 (Harris 3-8, Stueve 2-3, Murrell 2-5, Benson 0-1), N 7-17 (Neustrom 2-2, Scarlett 2-5, Billings 2-6, Tillo 1-4). Total fouls: E 18, N 16. Fouled out: Stueve. Technical fouls: none. Rebounds: E 21 (Harris 9), N 32 (Tillo 10). Assists: E 8 (Murrell 4), N 8 (Billings 3). Steals: E 7 (Rees 3), N 2 (Noble, Throne). Turnovers: E 5, N 8.
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