Simeon and Young, the state’s two best basketball programs, squared off in a normal high school game in a regular high school gym on Wednesday.
That alone is notable. Both teams bring out the casual fans so when the Dolphins and Wolverines meet up it is usually at a large venue. The schools nearly filled the UIC Pavilion for a game a few years ago over the holidays.
The No. 4 Dolphins did not benefit from the home court advantage. No. 13 Simeon’s late-season surge continued with a 66-57 win against Young in the quarterfinals of the Public League playoffs.
“Everything slows down when you get to the playoffs,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “All that ripping and running kind of goes out the window. It is half court basketball and that is who we are. We are really good at that.”
The Wolverines (16-13) were 6-9 at one point this season. Just a couple weeks ago they were upset by Corliss and fell out of the Super 25.
Simeon senior Kejuan Clements had a wide smile on his face throughout the fourth quarter.
“Someone told me [Young] came in the game thinking they had already won, because of our record,” Clements said. “I told them, don’t forget we have one three [city titles] in a row. I’m just trying to win four.”
Clements scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds. Fellow senior Antonio Reeves had 18 points and four rebounds. The Wolverines out-rebounded Young 38-26.
“They play four guards, they want to speed you up,” Smith said. “We wanted to get the ball inside and send one or two people to the offensive glass.”
Senior Jeremiah Stamps, with 12 points and eight rebounds, was Simeon’s key factor in the post. He’s improved consistently throughout the season, he was excellent against Belleville West’s impressive big men in O’Fallon two weeks ago.
“The biggest thing with him was getting him in shape,” Smith said. “Now he has a better lift and he’s confident with making shots and doing things around the rim.”
There are several reasons for Simeon’s struggles this season. The Wolverines were starting two freshmen and a transfer (Reeves). Then star sophomore Ahamad Bynum missed 15 games with an ankle injury and Smith was out for nine games with health issues.
“We are a team now,” Smith said. “It took us a little while to understand who we were. We didn’t have an identity early. Guys were trying to figure out what they could do on the court. The biggest piece to it all was [Bynum]. Now he’s healthy and that adds another dynamic to our team.”
Bynum finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. Simeon will face its top rival, Morgan Park, in the semifinals at Chicago State on Friday. The Mustangs beat the Wolverines 70-52 on Jan. 24.
Young (22-7) has played several close games against Public League teams this season but managed to turn it on at the end and come out with the win.
The Dolphins made a surge early in the fourth quarter behind star junior DJ Steward and led 55-49 with 4:01 to play. But Simeon held them to just a pair of free throws the rest of the game.
Steward finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds and senior Myles Baker added 13. Young will have next week off before starting the Class 4A state playoffs. Seeds are released on Thursday and the full state playoff bracket will be revealed on Friday.
Simeon at Young https://t.co/jpycXnSKq2
— Michael O'Brien (@michaelsobrien) February 14, 2019