The season has been highlighted by city powers, players and storylines. That trend continued in a big way in sectional championships where three games involving Public League teams dominated the headlines.
THE GOOD: Bogan beats Morgan Park
This one is good in the sense that Bogan, arguably the best and most successful program in Illinois without a state appearance, overcame its biggest bugaboo.
While the Morgan Park-Bogan rivalry has been heated and intense over the years, it’s been thoroughly one-sided. In the last 11 regular-season matchups over the past seven seasons Morgan Park has gone 10-1.
Even more painfully, Morgan Park has ended Bogan’s season in four of the past five seasons in sectional or super-sectional play and has won 11 straight overall against its rival.
As Bogan coach Arthur Goodwin said after Friday’s thrilling sectional win over Morgan Park, “Yes, the monkey is finally off our back.”
The Bengals beat Morgan Park 85-78 with leading scorer and rebounder Rashaun Agee playing roughly eight minutes the entire game due to foul trouble. But the fearless play of senior Jordan Booker (30 points) and the rise of junior Antoine Bloxton (20 points) propelled the Bengals to its second sectional title in program history.
THE BAD: Too many double-digit margins
In what is arguably the best night of high school basketball –– sectional championship night –– nine of 15 games were decided by an average victory margin of 15 points, while another game wasn’t even completed.
THE UGLY: North Lawndale-Farragut brawl
There isn’t anything much uglier than a sectional championship game being called due to a fight breaking out and both teams being disqualified from state tournament play.
In addition, DePaul Prep does advance to Peoria, but it sadly takes away the long-awaited super-sectional excitement for a team and school that would have cherished the experience.
THE SHOT: Damari Nixon’s game-winner
Curie, the state’s No. 1 ranked team that hasn’t lost to an in-state team all season, was on the ropes. Then Nixon delivered one of those truly great March moments.
With the Condors trailing 51-50 in the closing seconds, the 6-1 senior drilled a three-pointer with two seconds to play to stun Young in what has been the biggest shot of this postseason.
■ Jordan Booker, Bogan. After scoring 15 points in the sectional semifinal win over St. Laurence, the 5-9 point guard was both brilliant and inspirational in leading Bogan to a 85-78 win over Morgan Park Friday night. He made play after play, hit big free throws and finished with 30 points.
■ Jack McDonald, Geneva. The great Geneva point guard has upped his numbers in the postseason and put the Vikings on his back in sectional play. McDonald averaged 24.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists a game in beating Lyons and Downers Grove North.
■ EJ Liddell, Belleville West. Yes the state’s top player of the defending state champs has led Belleville West to another super-sectional appearance. The Ohio State recruit was his difference-making self in sectional wins over Alton and Danville with a combined 47 points, 19 rebounds, 15 blocked shots and six assists in the two wins.
■ Trey Boston, Downers Grove North. Downers Grove North made its first sectional title game appearance since 1999 and made a run at top-seed Geneva before losing, thanks to the play of the ultra-talented Boston. The 6-2 senior guard scored 20 in the win over Lake Park and pumped in 35 in the loss to Geneva, including seven three-pointers.
■ Adam Miller, Morgan Park. Despite Morgan Park coming up short in the sectional title game against Bogan, the junior star came up big to keep the Mustangs in it. Miller scored 19 points in beating Mt. Carmel and then poured in 28 points in the loss to Bogan.
■ Sean Houpt, Danville. Danville beat Pekin in the sectional semifinals behind the play of Houpt, a 6-3 senior with outstanding shooting range and efficiency, who scored 25 points. He followed that performance up with 23 points in the sectional title game loss to Belleville West.
Sectional thoughts and tidbits
➤ When coach Tom Kleinschmidt took over his alma mater in 2012 the program was in dire straits. In the previous seven seasons before Kleinschmidt’s arrival, the program was a paltry 4-51, including 2-32 the previous three years, in Chicago Catholic League play and had not experienced a winning season during that time.
Enter Kleinschmidt. The program changed names (from Gordon Tech to DePaul Prep in 2014) and started winning. Immediately.
Kleinschmidt hasn’t had a losing season yet in seven seasons and has won 20-plus games in four of the last five seasons. This year the Rams won the Chicago Catholic League and a sectional championship.
Following a sectional title game win over St. Viator and the disqualification of both Farragut and North Lawndale due to their sectional brawl, DePaul Prep is now heading to Peoria and is two wins from a state championship.
➤ Regardless of the outcome in Tuesday night’s super-sectional at the Sears Centre, this has been quite a three-year run for coach Mike Ellis and Evanston. The Wildkits won their third straight sectional championship and have now gone 28-4, 27-6 and 30-4 over the past three seasons.
Evanston has made several trips to state and finished among the top four teams in the state five times, but the Wildkits have never qualified in back-to-back years and haven’t won a state title in 51 years.
Evanston’s success may not be anything new, but how the Wildkits won Friday’s sectional game over Loyola certainly was. The team’s top two scorers, Lance Jones and Blake Peters, combined for five points — all coming from the free-throw line. Neither of its star players scored a field goal, yet Evanston advances thanks to five other players hitting three-pointers and the offensive outburst from sophomore Jaylin Gibson, who finished with 20 points.
➤ This isn’t the first no-name Stevenson group to capture a sectional title. Before there was a Jalen Brunson-led juggernaut, which also featured Division I talents Connor Cashaw and Justin Smith, Pat Ambrose coached a team in 2006-2007 to a fourth-place finish in Class 4A.
That overachieving Stevenson team featured one double-figure scorer, Jong Lee, along with a promising junior in Kevin Stineman and hard-nosed John Taylor. While this year’s 27-5 Patriots may not feature household basketball names, it’s different in that it’s clear there is a wide open two-year window to do some special things.
This is a junior-dominated team, with the help of senior guard Luke Chieng, that’s sky high and executing at a high rate at both ends of the floor as it heads into a matchup with Evanston sporting the underdog label.
➤ Bolingbrook’s senior tandem of Joseph Yesufu and Tyler Cochran have been mainstays for a program that’s done a whole lot of winning during their high school careers. Yesufu, a Drake recruit, and the Northern Illinois-bound Cochran, were instrumental in all four postseason wins thus far.
But junior Darius Burford, the team’s leading scorer, continues to show he’s the biggest force offensively for a high-scoring team that still showcases balance. The 6-1 guard has averaged 18.7 points a game in two regional and two sectional victories over the past two weeks, including a 20-point effort in the sectional semifinal win over West Aurora.
The high success rate of Bolingbrook over the past five years is unquestioned and has become the norm. However, it’s time to pause and realize that prior to the 2014-2015 season Bolingbrook had won just one sectional championship and four regional championships in the entire program’s history. Now the Raiders have won three sectional titles, including a pair of Class 4A third-place finishes, and four regional championships in the last five years.
➤ Already breaking the school record for wins, Rockford East is now one win away from reaching state for the first time in 41 years.
➤ Glenbard South’s sectional championship was just the program’s second in history. The first came in 2000 in the old two-class system, where the Raiders fell 67-46 to West Aurora in the super-sectional.