Going downstate never gets old for Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin.
The two-time defending Class 3A state champions will go for the three-peat after a rigorous 64-53 Class 3A Joliet Central Supersectional win over determined Hillcrest. The Mustangs (22-6) will meet Bellville Althoff Catholic in a state semifinal in Peoria on Friday at 12:15.
It was the second time in three years the Mustangs beat the Hawks (23-7) in a supersectional, this one not nearly as bad as the 77-44 romp in 2013. The Hawks were last downstate in 2012.
“It’s always fun and this is what we get up for when we start official practices,” Irvin said. “Man it’s what I’ve been saying all year, all heart, we are just all heart.”
The two guys making the heart of the Mustangs beat in rhythm were guards Charlie Moore and Marcus LoVett, Jr. Moore had 13 of his game-high 22 points in the first half when his team built a 31-21 lead. LoVett, Jr. (six assists, three steals), a senior transfer from California, scored nine of his 15 points in the final quarter.
Moore, a junior, is a three-year starter and has two titles. LoVett, Jr. has never won a state title.
“Actually being in state and going down there and having a chance to win is a huge plus for me,” LoVett, Jr. said. “I’m just going to try to do as much as I can for this team and I’m just happy we got the job done.”
It wasn’t easy against the Hawks, who played from behind the entire contest. They made a run in the fourth quarter, cutting a 14-point deficit down to 49-45 on a basket by George McDaniel (11 points) with 5:21 left. The Hawks forced three turnovers in a row but returned the favor three times as both teams went scoreless the next two minutes.
After a driving layup by Moore with 3:33 left, the Hawks would get no closer than six the rest of the way. Cornelius McIntosh had 12 points and three steals for the Hawks, while Marcus Garrett added 11 and 6-8 Taylor Adway, double- and triple-teamed all night, had a hard-earned 10 points and eight rebounds.
“We don’t turn the ball over who knows what could have happened,” Hillcrest coach Don Houston said. “I knew my kids were going to fight. At this point of the season they are going to play each game as hard as they can. I give (Morgan Park) credit.”