By Michael O’BrienThe Battle of Vincennes was played on Vincennes on Thursday. The parents of Morgan Park’s basketball players made it happen by threatening to have their children boycott the game if it was played at a venue other than Morgan Park.
The past few years, Morgan Park’s home game against rival Simeon was a traveling show, from Brooks to Chicago State to Young. The Mustangs finally had a chance to play the game at home, a first for every member of the team.
The tiny gym was packed and security was heavy both inside and outside. Everything was ready, except for the top-ranked Mustangs’ three-point shooting touch.
No. 4 Simeon pulled off a 60-57 upset, handing Morgan Park its first in-state loss of the season.
Junior guard Evan Gilyard was fantastic for the Wolverines (17-3, 9-1 Red-South). He scored 24 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
‘‘I just took the shots when I was open and knocked down the shots that they gave me, I didn’t force anything and played patient,” Gilyard said. “I already knew who was the best point guard. I came out here and showed it.”
Morgan Park senior Charlie Moore, the frontrunner for Player of the Year honors, dominated the first matchup between the teams this season. Gilyard guarded him in this matchup. Moore scored 19 points on 7-for-16 shooting.
The Wolverines win the conference with the victory.
“We beat ourselves,” Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said. “People were shooting the ball that shouldn’t shoot the ball and we didn’t play defense. We let Evan get going too much.”
The Mustangs (16-2, 8-1) shot 8-for-28 from three-point range.
“We threw a whole bunch of different looks at them, that was our game plan,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “Most of the time if you cut off the head, the body will fall. We just had to hold Charlie in check.”
Senior Zach Norvell scored 16 and grabbed a game-high seven rebounds. Josh Thomas added seven points and seven rebounds.
The vast majority of Simeon-Morgan Park games are determined by superstar players. The intensity and high level of play just doesn’t lend itself to role players stepping to the forefront. But Simeon junior Madison Lowery did just that. He didn’t play at all in the first matchup between the teams and he didn’t play in the first half Thursday. He’s not a regular member of the rotation in big games.
“I’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time,” Lowery said.
Lowery is bulky, but moves well. He provided an instant spark for Simeon in the second half and scored a career-high 10 points and grabbed four rebounds.
“There is really no way that you can stop a Simeon basketball team,” Gilyard said. “We have so many options and so many killers.”
The Wolverines didn’t have a bad loss this season, but had not pulled out a major win either. They lost close games to Curie and Fenwick. This victory changes the complexion of their season, it makes the possibility of a city and state title seem real again.
Morgan Park showed that the Battle of Vincennes, the season’s most high-profile Public League game, could safely be played in its gym.
“It was a good atmosphere, I’m glad the game was here,” Irvin said. “But I’m glad it’s over with. There was too much going on the last two weeks.”
Follow me on Twitter @michaelsobrien.