Tears for all, and championships for East St. Louis, Belleville West
PEORIA -- The losing team normally does the crying.
Not Saturday afternoon at Carver Arena.
Not after East St. Louis rallied to send the Class 3A state final to overtime and won 68-63 in a classic after trailing Bogan by 7 points with 3:07 left.
The gravity of winning the first basketball state title for traditional football power East St. Louis (29-6) began to sink in during the handshake line. Tears of joy streamed from several overcome Flyers, who never led during regulation and trailed 45-36 after three quarters.
Senior TJ Hargrove was emotional after the 6-foot-7 St. Louis signee scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Then his dad appeared on the court and they both lost it.
"We did it. We did it," Terrence Hargrove, Sr. repeated to his son during a 30-second embrace, the proud pop wearing a screenprinted jacket emblazoned with an image of TJ soaring for a layup.
The kids from Bogan -- a team "built to win this championship," according to Bengals coach Arthur Goodwin -- showed a bit of emotion immediately after the loss but were mostly too stunned to cry. The Chicago Public League champs stood expressionless in a corner of the court awaiting the runner-up trophy. Thousand-yard stares were ubiquitous as the teenagers came to terms with a dream dashed so close to realization. They replayed the final minutes of regulation in their heads for the first of thousands of times.
Bogan lost its lead and the title because it didn't adhere to Basketball 101. The Bengals turned the ball over twice in the final three minutes and missed the front end of the bonus twice in the last 28 seconds.
East. St. Louis (29-6) burst through that open door with three seconds left. Junior guard Jashawn Anderson missed a free-throw, but 6-7 senior Richard Robinson slipped past a box out, leapt for the missed free throw, and dunked two handed to tie the game. The East St. Louis fans roared their approval like a fleet of jet engines.
The arena was half full for both sessions -- so the debate over attendance will continue -- but the same roar returned during the evening session as a great day for downstate basketball and the Southwestern Conference in particular was capped by Belleville West's repeat in Class 4A.
EJ Liddell, the reigning Illinois Mr. Basketball, joined the likes of Peoria's Shaun Livingston and Simeon's Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker as players with consecutive IHSA titles on their resume. His team used a 9-0 fourth-quarter run to pull away from Evanston 71-59. He led all players with 24 points and 10 rebounds in his final high school game.
"It's unbelievable," said Liddell, who will wear an Ohio State jersey next year. "All those guys are in the NBA and left a great legacy on the state of Illinois. Everybody remembers their names. I'm happy I came to Illinois, left my name and made a mark."
Nothing against CPS schools, but state finals basketball is better and more interesting when strong teams rise outside the 312 area code. That message was sent by the Belleville West fans who chanted their 618 area code as the Maroons neared the repeat.
As for tears, Liddell wasn't having any of that, though his emotions were torn.
"I'm happy but I'm sad too," he said. "This is my last time wearing this West jersey and being coached by coach (Joe) Muniz. But we have two posters in our gym that say state championships and it's great.
"I'm ready to get my second ring.
Dajuan Gordon scored 24 points and grabbed 9 rebounds Saturday to lead Chicago Curie to a 64-55 win over Rockford East in the third place game of the Class 4A tournament.
Damari Nixon added 12 points and Justin Harmon had 10 for the Condors (35-2), who made 23 of 49 shots for 47 percent.
Rockford East (34-4) was led by 12 points from Andres Thompson and 11 from Sincere Parker.
DePaul Prep 64, Peoria Manual 44: In a battle of Rams, DePaul Prep came out on top in the Class 3A third place contest.
Tyler Johnson led DePaul Prep (25-10) with 15 points while Perry Cowan added 13. Raheem Anthony had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Quintez Edwards and Rolando Brown scored 11 points each for Manual (19-13).