Rock-solid Fenwick cruises past Bloomington

Fenwick's Jacob Keller (1) brings the ball down court against Bloomington. Worsom Robinson/ For the Sun-Times.

PEORIA—Fenwick seniors Jacob Keller and Jamal Nixon didn’t receive any honors this season. Neither made the All-Area or All-State teams. But both are tremendous players. Their team-first attitudes didn’t result in award-worthy stats, but it led the way to the state finals at Carver Arena.

Friday’s Class 3A State Semifinal game went pretty much according to plan then. Keller and Nixon were dominant in their own ways and let freshman DJ Steward do the scoring and the Friars rolled to a 67-52 win against Bloomington.

“We have two senior leaders,” Fenwick coach Rick Malnati said. “I would argue they are the best point guard in the state and the best post guy in the state. Jamal now has 102 wins, he has surpassed Corey Maggette as the all-time leader in wins. He’s been the biggest winner in the history of Fenwick.”

Steward scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Nixon had 18 points and nine rebounds. Keller added eight points and eight assists.

“Keller is a good Rajon Rondo,” Malnati said. “The points really don’t matter. He can get you 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 20 points or whatever is needed. You didn’t see his best game today but he’s our stabilizing factor. He can get to where he wants on the court.”

Keller also had six steals. The Friars (30-4) had 17 steals in the game and forced Bloomington (26-5) into 23 turnovers. It wasn’t by chance.

“Watching film in the hotel room we saw their tendencies and most of them went left to right on crossovers so we tried to sit on that,” Keller said. “I just tried to speed them up a little bit. [Steward] with his length helped force the turnovers as well.”

Fenwick led by seven at the half. The Purple Raiders pulled within three points midway through the third quarter but that was as close it would get.

“We thought we were going to play man-to-man,” Malnati said. “At the first tv timeout we switched to 1-3-1 and you just saw a different look in [Bloomington’s] guards’ eyes. When we saw that tentative look we stuck with it.”

Sophomore Chris Payton, a 6-6 forward, led Bloomington with 21 points and nine rebounds. Patrick Fisher added 10 and sniper Dazon Farris scored nine.

“[Payton] is a good player, we knew if we blocked him out and didn’t let him get any easy buckets that we’d be fine,” Fenwick junior Billy Bruce said.

The Friars will play Morgan Park in the Class 3A state title game on Saturday at 12:45.

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