O’Brien: Bloom upsets unbeaten Joliet West

Bloom's Austin Richie (32) rushes a shot before the half against Joliet West. Worsom Robinson/ For the Sun-Times.

PONTIAC — Two south suburban basketball programs with wildly different goals collided in the quarterfinals of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament on Thursday.

No. 5 Joliet West entered undefeated, looking to prove to the state that they are legitimate state title contenders. The Tigers planned to use the Pontiac Tournament as a stepping stone. Last season’s team couldn’t hang with Public League powers Simeon and Curie. This year’s squad believed they could.

No. 17 Bloom has been on a downswing the past few years. Dante Maddox, a graduate of the school, took over the program last season. He’s trying to reestablish the Blazing Trojans as a state powerhouse.

Mission accomplished for Bloom. The Blazing Trojans outsmarted, out-toughed and outplayed the more talented Tigers in the 68-64 victory.

“Are we back now, really?” asked Maddox. “I’m not satisfied. I went into the game expecting to win. No matter who you step on the floor with teams can be outplayed, can be outworked. They are teenage boys. Whoever executes and believes in themselves will get the victory.”

The game was tied at 34 at the half. Joliet West’s two D1-bound stars, Teyvion Kirk and Trevian Bell, both picked up three fouls in the first sixteen minutes. The Tigers love to attack the passing lanes and strip dribbles, stealing the ball is the backbone of their defense. The foul trouble neutered that attack and even late in the game they were unable to flip the switch back on.

Kirk scored 18 points, he shot 7-for-23 from the floor and 3-for-10 from the free-throw line. Bell scored six points, none in the second half. The Tigers were 12-for-27 from the free-throw line.

Maddox has a calm, cool demeanor and his team followed his lead throughout the game. Even when Joliet cut the Blazing Trojans lead to three with 22 seconds to play, there was no panic from the Bloom team or sideline.

“At the end of the day a clear head is going to execute better than someone that is panicking,” Maddox said.

Austin Richie, an athletic 6-5 senior, is Bloom’s best player and he had one of the best games of his career on Thursday. He had 23 points and nine rebounds and made four free throws in the final 11 seconds to seal the win.

“I just wanted to come out and show what Bloom basketball was all about,” Richie said. “We are undersized, but I never doubt us, never doubt our ability.”

Joliet West out-rebounded Bloom 45-29, but the Tigers committed 18 turnovers.

Javonte Slater had 14 points and five assists for Bloom (8-2). Michael Smith came off the bench to lead Joliet West (11-1) with 20 points.

The Tigers, who wanted so badly to prove themselves against Simeon or Curie, will not get the chance at Pontiac. The loss also ruins the possible all-undefeated Final Four scenario at the tournament. That had not happened since 1972.

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  • mikenike

    That season (’72-’73) in the State Tournament New Trier (Schneiter) lost to Hirsch for the State Championship. West Aurora (McDougal) beat Lockport (Basarich) in the 3rd place game. (In the quarterfinals in Champaign, West beat Elgin (Chesbrough) in 2 OTs, after the two teams split during the regular season. That Friday night quarterfinal game between them was one of the best State Tournament games I ever saw. John Bryant, Skip Hicks, Jeff Wilkins.)
    And yes, Ellis Files played for Lockport that year. And somehow, next year, Ernie Kivisto had him playing at East Aurora.
    The good old days for us old-timers.

    • Leegs1

      Remember Files in the third place game. Really enbarrassing for Lockport.

      • mikenike

        lol. yeah, I remember that too. His teammates probably weren’t too sorry to see him leave for the Tomcats.

        • Leegs1

          Remember ’63 at Pontiac. Lockport beat Pekin which went on to win state that year. Bill Ford was a Freshman for Lockport and Dave Golden played for Pekin

          • mikenike

            haha, you’re going way back now. Wasn’t Golden the kid with thick black glasses? And was that the year they beat Cobden? My earliest high school memory is my dad taking me to see Dan Issel and Batavia and Bill Small at West Aurora. Small was ’59, not sure the year I saw Issel, just remember walking in during warmups and this guy walked by us in the layup line and it was like looking at a giant to a little kid like me.

  • Porters61

    1972 Pontiac semi-finals were Lockport vs. Glenbard West and New Trier vs. West Aurora. Lockport beat New Trier for the title.

  • Leegs1

    Who were the four undefeated in ’72? My guess, west Aurora, Lockport, Quincy, and bloom?

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