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.Tags: Bloom, Joliet West