PONTIAC — Fourteen members of Curie’s basketball team stood at center court on Thursday celebrating the school’s second Pontiac Holiday Tournament title.
At the same time, Devin Gage, the team leader and tournament MVP, was still sitting on the bench. His right ankle was wrapped and iced. He had to be helped off the court with 26 seconds to play in the 75-65 win over Peoria Manual.
“(The ankle) is throbbing right now but that’s fine,” Gage said. “We got what we needed. I had to bring this Pontiac title home. It was a test out there.”
Gage scored 23 points. The DePaul recruit scored 11 consecutive points in the second quarter. The burst seemed to energize his teammates. Curie coach Mike Oliver had pulled all of the starters early in the quarter after a lackadaisical start to the game.
“I think we had to wear them down and get after them,” Oliver said. “After we found out they didn’t have any legs we did a good job of denying ( AJ Youngman) and making (Da’Mone Williams) work.”
Junior Elijah Joiner, Curie’s second-leading scorer, played a poor first half. But he came alive in the final two quarters, scoring 17 points.
“(Joiner) was just trying to do to much,” Oliver said. “I told him to relax and do what you do. We don’t do fancy.”
Curie’s excellent backcourt was a known quantity heading, but their young big men have been a revelation. Terry Smith Jr, a 6-5 junior, and Treavon Martin, a 6-7 sophomore, were warriors throughout the tournament. Smith had 11 points and five rebounds. Martin grabbed six boards.
“The key has been us stepping up,” Smith said. “(Martin) is like my little brother. We knew we had to be men on the court in this tournament so that’s what we did. We helped lead the team to victory.”
Romon Douglas-Watkins led Manual (10-1) with 19 points. Williams and Youngman each scored 15.
Gage was also the hero in the semifinals against Simeon earlier in the day. Curie was inbounding with five second to play, trailing by one. Gage grabbed the pass, took one step and launched a 28-foot shot that swished through to give the Condors an 80-78 win over the Wolverines.
Gage has cemented himself as perhaps the second-best player in school history, behind current Portland Trailblazer Cliff Alexander. Gage was a young guard on the Alexander teams, he’s realized his full potential this season.
“I don’t really care about individual stuff,” Gage said. “I want to win city and win state. I don’t think we should lose a game this season, we should go undefeated.”
Curie (10-1) hasn’t lost on the court this season. The Condors were forced to forfeit a win in Kentucky over Orangeville Prep, a team from Canada that was not sanctioned by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
“Gage has been MVP of three events this season,” Oliver said. “We go how he goes and right now everything is going pretty well. We are young but everyone is clicking and the combinations are working so well. Everybody is just buying into what we are trying to do.”