Bloomington, Chris Payton slip past St. Rita

Bloomington's Chris Payton (4) beats St. Rita's Landen Gladney (23) to the ball. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Bloomington junior Chris Payton broke lose with the ball early in the fourth quarter on Friday in the Chicago Elite Classic at UIC. He took a few dribbles as he passed half court and then launched into a stunning, 360-degree slam dunk.

“It wasn’t anything special,” Payton said. I know I’m capable of doing it, it was a spur of the moment decision.

It was the first flash of eye-popping ability at this season’s Chicago Elite Classic. Payton has been one of the state’s top players in the class of 2019 since his freshman year. The ISU recruit is the reason the Purple Raiders nabbed an invite to the prestigious event.

“This is the first time we’ve actually played in the city,” Bloomington coach Michael Mosley said. “We got this invite and we wanted to make the most of it.

Bloomington did just that, knocking off No. 13 St. Rita 59-56.

Payton scored 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Senior guard Chris Pugh added 17 points, six boards and four steals for the Purple Raiders (5-0).

St. Rita had 21 turnovers and shot 1 for 11 from three-point range. Things just didn’t fall the Mustangs way.

“We have to be stronger with the ball, we have to make better decisions,” St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare said. “Every game we have played so far we get in a four or five minute spell where we can’t score.”

Landen Gladney, a 6-5 senior, led the Mustangs (4-2) with 11 points and 14 rebounds, all while being the primary defender on Payton.

“Landen played terrific tonight, he did a great job on Payton,” DeCesare said. “[Payton] is going to get his points but Landon did a great job of scratching on him, making him throw the ball away.”

Senior guard Jordan Matthews scored 16 for St. Rita and had six assists. Sophomore Joel Watts is still working his way back from an injury and has been limited to just ten minutes of action per game so far this season.

Watts flashed impressive potential as a point guard last season. He clearly wasn’t himself, turning the ball over six times and scoring just three points. Without him on the court for most of the game, Matthews was called on to do an awful lot.

“That was kind of expected [tonight],” Matthews said. “With the team we have I shouldn’t have to do everything. I have a lot of faith in these guys. We’ll be fine the rest of the season.”

The Mustangs started the season strong, winning four games in Rockford. They lost to Rockford Jefferson, one of the state’s better teams.

“We have two sophomore guards, only three seniors on the team,” DeCesare said. “We are very good, young, deep and talented but we have guys that need more experience on the court.”

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