PEORIA - Hitting on 9-of-15 shots from the field in the third quarter, Winnebago turned a two-point halftime advantage into a nine-point lead and eventually a 67-63 win over the Pinckneyville Panthers Friday evening in the semifinal round of the Class 2A state playoffs.
The 31-4 Panthers will play for third place at 5:30 Saturday night against Bloomington Central Catholic. Winnebago will then meet Chicago Orr for the championship.
"Pinckneyville kids are tough and we knew they were," said Indians head coach Joe Murphy. "They got it (deficit) down to one and we started getting the ball back inside to Andrew (Morrissey)."
The 6-foot-9, 230-pound senior center, who is a North Alabama University recruit. dominated the paint against the Panthers. He converted 7-of-8 field goals and finished with a game-high 29 points to go along with a single-game state tournament record 16 rebounds.
"Morrissey is probably the best post player we've faced all year," said Pinckneyville head coach Bob Waggoner. "Everytime he got the ball inside, he scored. He could see over everyone when he got the ball and their guards were good enough to get him the ball in a position to score."
Waggoner said his team played hard. The shots simply weren't falling in with as much regularity.
"We had great looks all night," he said. "I thought we did great attacking the rim. We had some great pull-ups from the beginning to the end, but we had to struggle to get everything we were getting."
The veteran head coach added that the Panthers had a good game plan.
"And we executed it well," he said. "They (Indians) were just a good team tonight."
The Panthers placed four players in double figures. Guard Dawson Yates led the charge with 16 points. JC Moll and Grant Jausel collected 14 points each and Tanner Spihlmann chipped in 11.
The 30-2 Indians scorched the nets, knocking down 25-of-50 shots from the field (50 percent) and 3-of-10 from beyond the arc (30 percent).
Pinckneyville was a substandard 23-of-58 from the field (39 percent) and a chilly 4-of-18 (22 percent) from long range, which is usually their bread and butter.
"In the fourth quarter, we picked up our press a little bit and got them to play a little bit faster," Waggoner said. "But the big factor they had was the big kid inside who could always get two points when they needed it."
The smaller Panthers battled Winnebago to even terms on the boards with each team hauling down 33 caroms.
Pinckneyville led 16-12 after one period, trailed 29-27 at the half and 51-42 after three periods.