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O’Brien: Thornton steps up in final minutes to beat Joliet West

Close games between talented teams are often decided by a razor thin margin. Tuesday in Joliet that margin was 6-6 senior Eryk Preston, who played the best 16 minutes of life in the second half.

“That was the best I’ve every played, no doubt at all,” said Preston. “I don’t even believe I did that out there.”

No. 8 Thornton beat No. 17 Joliet West 56-50. Preston scored all of his 10 points in the second half. He scored three key baskets and grabbed two key rebounds in the final six minutes.

“That’s the best I’ve ever seen him play,” Thornton senior Sam Taylor III said. “We needed that and I’m glad he stepped up.”

Joliet West (10-5) led 42-36 after three quarters. Thornton opened the fourth quarter with a three from Curtis Dilworth and then one from Taylor to tie the score.

“This was another game to prove we are the best team in the south suburbs,” Taylor said. “Pat (Rucker) was saying that the whole time, he was fired up. At halftime he kept us pumped. He’s always like that. He’s our energy.”

Taylor finished with 15 points and Rucker added six points and seven rebounds. Dilworth scored 11.

Preston didn’t play basketball last year and according to Thornton coach Tai Streets he didn’t even play much as a sophomore.

“He’s just a fighter,” Streets said. “He’s a football player number one. He’s getting better. He’s just an athlete and a competitor. It just shows if you work hard good things can happen.”

Rucker and Taylor are the only players that returned from last year’s team. The Wildcats (11-1) have won 11 consecutive games.

“I didn’t know what to expect this season,” Streets said. “I knew I had some competitors but I didn’t know how it was going to come together. But it is coming together. That was a tough team, that team was a big test for us.”

Joliet West out-rebounded the Wildcats 34-28 and outplayed them in the second and third quarters. Almost every player in the Tigers’ rotation is a junior or sophomore. That youth showed in the fourth quarter. Joliet West managed just one basket in the final 6:16 of the game and didn’t score a basket in the final 2:11.

Teyvion Kirk led the Tigers with 17 points. Trevian Bell added 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Bell was one of the breakout stars at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament last month. He showed flashes of why on Tuesday. The 6-4 junior is able to get his shot from anywhere on the court. They just weren’t falling against the Wildcats. He was 5-for-15 shooting.

Thornton can now claim one of the top resumes in the area. They face rival Thornwood on Friday and then Young comes to Harvey on Sunday. It’s been several years since a Public League powerhouse program traveled to the South Suburbs to play a game.

“It’s a big game against my good buddy (Young coach Tyrone Slaughter) that coaches AAU with me,” Streets said. “It’s going to be a fun, they are a young loaded team that is getting better.”