The hole ran so deep that it almost felt bottomless.
But the Grant boys basketball team was determined to scratch and claw its way out, and prove that a 22-point deficit with nine minutes of game time remaining isn't what it used to be.
"I've never seen anything like this," Grant coach Wayne Bosworth said on Friday night as he shook his head and shrugged his shoulders with dumbfounded delight in the wake of his team's improbable 65-62 victory over Lakes that came complete with a Hollywood ending.
Just minutes before, Bosworth's Bulldogs were in quite a pickle. They were out to win the championship of their own holiday tournament for just the second time since being crowned champions of the tournament in its inaugural year in 2006.
But Lakes, one of their fiercest rivals in the North Suburban Conference Prairie Division, had other ideas.
The Eagles put together a solid first half and extended an 8-point halftime lead (32-24) to as many as 22 points (55-33) with one minute remaining in the third quarter.
That's when the Bulldogs suddenly came to life.
They scored the last six points of the third quarter and rode that momentum right into the fourth quarter where they steadily chipped away at Lakes' lead. With 50 seconds left in the game, guard Allen Lewis hit Grant's only 3-pointer of the night to cut the deficit to just a single point at 62-61.
Then trusty Jared Helmich finished the job.
With less than 30 seconds to play, the Grant senior forward muscled his way inside for a bucket off an inbounds pass to give the Bulldogs a 1-point lead (63-62) that sent the once dismissive home crowd into a frenzy. Then, he grabbled a rebound off a Lakes' miss at the other end, got fouled and sunk 2 free throws.
By the time everyone could catch their breath, Grant had a 65-62 lead with 13 seconds left.
"I guess I was kind of feeling it," Helmich said. "I told our guys, 'Just get it inside.' I had a little jump hook that was working over their big guy (6-foot-8 Justin Schneider) and I kept going with that. But my teammates were giving me great passes and I couldn't have done it without them.
"It was a whole team effort today."
After Helmich's free throws, Lakes called timeout and set up a play that wound up completely freeing Tanner Blain for a wide-open look from three-point land. But his shot just missed and so did Direll Clark's 3-point attempt off the rebound as the buzzer sounded.
The made the Bulldogs' exhilarating 25-point swing over the last nine minutes of the game official, and likely one of the biggest comebacks in Lake County in recent memory.
"Our guys deserve all the credit in the world," Bosworth said. "They gave it all they had. They came into the locker room just now and were gassed. They were just dead. It was a heart of a champion. That's what they had tonight."
Grant, which got a game-high 27 points from Helmich, who pumped in 16 points in the fourth quarter alone, moves to 9-4 on the season.
"We just had heart, we just kept fighting as a team and we got back into it," said Lewis, who finished with 12 points. "We just wanted it. We had never won the tournament championship, any of the guys on the team. We just had that hunger to win it.
"Any team could have given up. You're down by 22 points, the crowd isn't into it. Anyone could say, 'I'm done. I'm hanging my head.' But we take pride in stuff as a team. We get back on 'D,' we hustle. That's how we got back into the game little by little."
Down 55-39, Grant opened the fourth quarter with an 8-2 run that cut its deficit to 10 points with 5:51 to play. Helmich and Lewis had all of the Bulldogs' points during that stretch.
Lakes, which played the entire fourth quarter without starting point guard Jay-Jay Elvir, who left the game late in the third quarter with an ankle injury, went up again by as many as 12 points about a minute later when Clark (team-high 24 points) hit 2 free throws.
But then Grant went on a 16-1 run to close out the game.
Helmich scored 12 of those 16 points.
"He's tough. He's a load," Lakes coach Chris Snyder said of Helmich. "Last year, we had all kinds of trouble with him. He's just got a motor that keeps going. He's kind of a throw-back player, a blue-collar player. He's there scrapping for everything.
"We just don't play complete games yet. We let up and you can't do that at this level when you're playing good teams like that. We've got (Grant) next week at our place (in North Suburban Prairie action) and that's something we've got to get better at."
In the meantime, the Eagles must sit with the fact that they let one (and a tournament championship) get away.
"They just wanted it more, I guess," Clark said. "They out-rebounded us, they took it to the paint. We couldn't stop them.
"We came here to win the whole tournament. But they wanted it more. That's all you can say."