Evanston, Belleville West show their mettle in semifinals
PEORIA -- Blake Peters wears thick, protective glasses that make him look a young Kurt Rambis with shorter hair.
The Evanston sophomore had no problem eyeing the Carver Arena baskets Friday.
Maybe it was because one of the state's best young shooters has seen these particular baskets before.
Peters played in Peoria last year. He dazzled as a freshman playing on Illinois high school basketball's biggest stage, leading Evanston in a semifinal against Whitney Young with 23 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.
Nevertheless, Peters' team lost that game and settled for third place after a 61-49 win over Larkin.
He said he and the rest of the Wildkits have been preoccupied with returning to Peoria ever since.
Such motivation translated to the desired result in a 94-82 victory over a Rockford East team that had eliminated South Elgin and Geneva in the past week. Peters lit the nets ablaze. He sank 7 of 8 attempts from long range and scored 27 points.
"I think we all like being on the big stage, especially with what happened last year," Peters said. "I think we were really hurt by that loss. My teammates got me the ball in my spots. I have to thank them for that."
It was a historic offensive explosion by Evanston (32-4). The Wildkits set new Class 4A records for overall points, points in a half -- they led 48-29 at halftime, fueled by five 3-pointers from Peters and 10 of senior Lance Jones' 24 points -- and points in a quarter.
"The Peters kid just started going nuts," Rockford East coach Roy Sackmaster said. "The first half was ultimately the difference in the game."
Evanston advances to Saturday's Class 4A state title against defending champion Belleville West (32-4).
The Maroons, led by Ohio State-bound force EJ Liddell, dispatched top-ranked Curie (34-2) with a 70-48 victory in the second semifinal that was far easier than most expected.
Liddell, for those who have never stood next to him, is built like one of those talking trees in the "Wizard of Oz." He stands 6 feet, 7 inches tall and carries 230 pounds of mostly muscle. He dunks like LeBron and blocks shots like Dikembe.
Liddell finished with his usual double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds along with 4 blocks. Meanwhile, 6-5, 250-pound senior Keith Randolph contributed 19 points. Randolph is committed to play defensive end at Illinois. Their physicality was too much for the sleek Condors to handle. Too many talking trees.
"Them some big guys down there," Curie coach Mike Oliver said. "Liddell? Liddell is a grown man."
That grown man can't wait for another shot at a title and the chance to go down as a state legend. Belleville West can become the first Class 4A team to win consecutive state titles since Simeon won four straight championships ending in 2013.
"This was a real confidence booster because we knew we would have matchup problems and we knew they would have matchup problems against us," Liddell said of knocking off the Chicago Public League champs. "We came out there and showed why we are the best team in the state."
Evanston will have something to say about that in the final, of course.
"We made a statement," said Evanston guard Jaheim Holden, who scored 15 points against Rockford East. "I think there will be a bigger statement (Saturday). A lot of people think that we can't stick with teams like Belleville and Curie because of the size that we have, but when we step between those lines we're the toughest players. "It's going to come down to that. We're going to show people."
The second and fourth-ranked teams in Class 3A, Chicago Bogan and East St. Louis, will meet Saturday for the state championship at Carver Arena in Peoria after winning their respective semifinals on Friday afternoon. Neither school has ever won a boys basketball state title.
No. 2 Bogan 51, DePaul Prep 31: Rashawn Agee scored 13 points and hauled down 15 rebounds as the Bengals, playing in their first state final tournament, advanced over DePaul Prep, which, after beating St. Viator for a sectional championship, came into the Final Four via a double forfeit that prevented the Rams from playing in a supersectional.
Jordan Booker added 10 points for Bogan (30-3), which hit six 3-pointers while making 21 of 48 shots from the floor.
Perry Cowan led DePaul Prep (24-10) with 14 points and 10 rebounds. The Rams, who trailed 27-13 at halftime, shot just 11 of 44 for the game.
No. 4 East St. Louis 47, Peoria Manual 48: Terrence Hargrove Jr. led the Flyers (29-6) with 19 points and 12 rebounds while Jashawn Anderson had 14 points.
ESL used a 13-8 fourth quarter to break open a close game.
Rolando Brown led Manual, which was denied a shot at its sixth state title, with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Quintez Edwards added 9 points for the Rams, who were just 15 of 50 shooting (30 percent) for the game.