Simeon makes final without its best effort

PEORIA, Ill. -- Illinois high school basketball fans will get what they’ve been dreaming about all season -- a Proviso East vs. Simeon matchup in the Class 4A state championship --– but neither team was exactly impressive in setting it up.

One game after Proviso East scored four points in a quarter and pulled out an ugly win over Rockford Auburn, Simeon had its own struggles in a 45-35 victory over Bloom in the second Class 4A semifinal.

“They pushed us to the limit,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “From my aspect, I really thought we should have lost the game.”

As a surprise to most in the building, Bloom (28-4) nearly made that happen. The Blazing Trojans frustrated Simeon star Jabari Parker, holding him to 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting, and were carried offensively by the hot hand of Lejavius Johnson, who scored a game-high 18 points.

“Yeah, it was the most frustrating [game of my season,]” Parker said. “Like coach Rob said, this is a bad time to be messing up, especially in the end. We just have to tweak some things and get back to the blueprint.”

Bloom proved in the early minutes Friday it was going to give Simeon (32-1) all it could handle. The Blazing Trojans jumped out to a 13-8 lead in the first quarter and extended it to 15-9 in the opening minutes of the second quarter.

“I knew that before the game that we could play with them from the jump,” Johnson said.

With Bloom leading and Parker struggling, Smith decided to try something different. He placed Parker on the bench for most of the second quarter and turned to his reserves for a spark.

The second unit answered the challenge. Simeon closed out the second quarter on a 15-3 run and took a 24-18 lead into halftime.

Bloom wasn’t going away that easily, though. The Blazing Trojans gave Simeon another scare in the fourth quarter when Donald Moore connected on a 3-pointer with 2:27 left and pulled Bloom within 36-34.

It was then Parker finally emerged. He scored on a three-point play and gave the Wolverines a five-point advantage again. Junior Jaylon Tate came through at the line with 5 of 6 free throws in the final two minutes, and Simeon held on for the win.

Simeon was 17 of 22 from the free-throw line compared to Bloom being 1 of 5.

Smith expects his team to look more like the Simeon everyone has come to expect in Saturday night’s championship.

“We won’t have another performance like that,” Smith said. “I can just about guarantee that. I know these guys very well, and they don’t want to let you guys down neither with the performance. I’m not saying we’re going to win, but it’s going to be a better performance.”

And now, everyone gets what they’ve been hoping for all season. No. 1 Simeon will finally face off against No. 2 Proviso East.

“Yes, I want to play them because that’s the game everybody wants to see,” Simeon senior Steve Taylor said. “They’re undefeated, and I feel they haven’t been playing anybody, so now they’re playing us.”

Tate (11 points), Kendrick Nunn (seven points, six rebounds) and Taylor (nine points, 10 rebounds) led Simeon in the win.

Dejahown Freeman contributed nine points for Bloom.