PEORIA — Ramean Hinton sat down next to DaJuan Gordon on the Curie bench and put his arm around his friend. He gave Gordon a towel to hide the raw emotion that had welled up in his eyes.
There were still four minutes left in the game, but the Condors’ state-title dreams were over. Gordon had fouled out, as had fellow senior Justin Harmon. There was nothing left for Hinton to do but console the leaders who took Curie further than anyone in Chicago — even their coach — ever imagined in November.
Defending Class 4A champion Belleville West was just too big and too strong. The Maroons walloped the Condors 70-48 in the state semifinals Friday at Carver Arena.
“I was telling them to keep their heads up,” Hinton said. “We played hard and did what we could do. They just had more heart than us.”
Ohio State recruit EJ Liddell finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for Belleville West. He also blocked four shots, but his presence in the post altered closer to a dozen Curie shots.
“They are really aggressive,” Liddell said. “They are a really good team, but we just came out and played.”
This was supposed to be the best game of the weekend: the defending state champion against the top-ranked team that was undefeated against Illinois competition. That never really materialized. The first quarter was a defensive slog.
“When you don’t play against EJ every day, you go in that lane like you normally do, and it is an eye-opening experience for a lot of people,” Maroons coach Joe Muniz said.
Belleville West (33-4) started attacking the Condors (34-2) in the post in the second quarter and built a double-digit lead it would have for nearly the rest of the game.
Hinton and Gordon each scored 10 points, but Curie, which relied on the three-point shot all season, shot only 6-for-27 from behind the arc.
“Their bulk bothered us; they were big,” Condors coach Mike Oliver said. “It was hard to get around them, and they wore us down. I think that is why our jump shots were short.”
The Maroons outrebounded Curie 44-29 and feasted on second-chance points.
“[Curie] is a very athletic team,” Liddell said. “We had to box out. We just focused on rebounds.”
Keith Randolph, a 6-5, 250-pound senior, had 19 points and six rebounds for Belleville West. Jaylin Mosby added 14 points and Lawrence Brazil III nine for the Maroons, who had assists on 17 of their 26 baskets.
“That’s a high percentage for us,” Muniz said. “We’ve had some games where we didn’t assist on a whole lot of baskets. We are playing our best basketball of the year right now.”
Curie will play Rockford East in the third-place game Saturday.
“If you would have told us [in November] that we’d be down here March 15, I would have looked at you sideways,” Oliver said. “These guys had a heck of a season.”
Belleville West will face Evanston on Saturday in an effort to make it back-to-back titles.
“If [Evanston plays like it did against Rockford East], wow,” Muniz said. “They are really good. I don’t know if I’ve seen a shooter like [Evanston sophomore Blake Peters]. It is going to be another tough matchup for us, but it will be a tough matchup for them, too.”Tags: belleville west, Curie