CHICAGO – Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin swears Simeon is beatable.
Yet, there continues to be no proof of it.
No. 1 Simeon remained unbeaten Thursday by defeating visiting No. 12 Morgan Park 52-45 in the second round of the Chicago Public League playoffs.
It was the second time this season the Wolverines knocked off their rival, and this one was especially sweet with Morgan Park (15-6) being the defending city champions and having eliminated Simeon from the Public League playoffs last season.
The Wolverines’ 22nd consecutive win didn’t come easy, though. Simeon had to work as hard as it has all season on Thursday.
“That was a state championship atmosphere,” said Simeon coach Robert Smith with sweat pouring down his face after his team’s win. “Nobody wanted to lose. Those were two of the best teams in the city.”
Morgan Park got Smith into a sweat in the fourth quarter. After trailing by as many as 10 points in the second half, Morgan Park opened the final quarter on a 7-0 run and cut Simeon’s lead to one point when sophomore Billy Garrett Jr. drained a 3-pointer with 5:59 remaining. From there, the game was back and forth until the final buzzer.
Continuing to follow in Derrick Rose’s footsteps, Simeon’s sensational sophomore Jabari Parker provided the heroics for his team in the final minute. He grabbed a key rebound, pushed the ball up court, dropped an assist to Rashawn McElrath for a dunk and later sank three clutch free throws to put the finishing touches on the win. He finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
“I keep telling people, and I don’t know if they’re listening to me, but Jabari is the best player in the state regardless of class,” Smith said. “[East Aurora’s] Ryan Boatright is a great player. [Morgan Park’s] Wayne Blackshear is a great player. But Jabari is the best player in the state.”
Blackshear had an up-and-down day. Before the game, he was officially announced as a McDonald’s All-American selection on ESPNU. He opened Thursday’s game strong, scoring six points, grabbing four rebounds, blocking two shots and coming up with a steal all in the first quarter.
Blackshear’s momentum wouldn’t carry on. He scored just six points the rest of the way and finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
“We didn’t execute,” Blackshear said. “We have to execute better.”
Irvin was happy with Blackshear’s play, but not so much with starting sophomore guards Garrett Jr. and Markee Williams.
“My two young sophomores didn’t come to play today,” said Irvin, who visited the hospital earlier in the day due to the flu. “They were going too fast. The need to understand that Wayne and Jerome Brown are the leaders. Brown took two shots. We can’t win with that.”
Simeon junior Steve Taylor also played a factor in Morgan Park’s demise. Taylor owned the interior. He scored 11 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. McElrath, another forward, contributed 12 points.
Morgan Park’s Adrian Jeffries had 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. Garrett Jr. scored a team-high 14 points.