O’Brien: Curie, Devin Gage cap tumultuous four years with state title

SHARE O’Brien: Curie, Devin Gage cap tumultuous four years with state title
SHARE O’Brien: Curie, Devin Gage cap tumultuous four years with state title

PEORIA — Devin Gage’s career would make an excellent screenplay if any producer is looking for another inspirational sports movie.

The DePaul recruit and four-year starter has been through a tremendous saga in his time at Curie. He watched the best team in school history, featuring current Portland Trail Blazer Cliff Alexander, get stripped of a city title because of eligibility issues. Later that year a Sun-Times investigation revealed there wasn’t a team in the Public League with the proper eligibility paperwork filed, but only Curie was punished.

That was Gage’s sophomore year. He and Curie coach Mike Oliver moved on and rebuilt a new team. On Saturday that young squad beat Benet 65-59 to win the Class 4A state championship.

“It’s wonderful,” Gage said. “We’ve been through a lot, but we always had the faith we could win this.”

“It’s just amazing after the rollercoaster ride we’ve been on the past four years,” Curie coach Mike Oliver said. “Devin Gage went through all the struggles as much as I did.”

Gage, who shot just 20 percent from the three-point line this season, made three three-pointers in a 19-0 Curie run that wrestled control of the game away from the Redwings.

Benet led 34-30 with 2:35 to play in the third quarter. Curie capped the 19-0 run with two free throws from Terry Smith Jr. with 4:55 to play in the game. The Condors had a 49-34 lead.

Benet chipped away until the end, but Curie shot 10-for-14 from the free throw line in the final 1:37 to seal the win.

Gage was the offensive hero with 23 points, but 6-7 sophomore Traevon Martin’s role was just as crucial. He scored 10 points and grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds for the Condors (28-5).

“I knew I was the longest guy out there,” Martin said. “[Oliver] always tells me that I’m 6-11 when I just put my arms up. I knew I could make the difference.”

Benet led 28-23 at the half. The Redwings (31-4) were hot from the three-point line early, but cooled down in the second half to finish 11-for-26.

“Gage is our leader, has been all year,” Martin said. “We always had the confidence that he would take charge and get us this win.”

This was Curie’s first appearance in the state finals. Condors coach Mike Oliver is 486-131 in 23 years as head coach. He slowly but steadily but Curie into a city power and then a state power.

“We are right up there with the big guys now, Simeon and Morgan Park and Young,” Oliver said. “The guys understood all season that if they stood together they could make history.”

James Dockery led Benet with 14 points. Dan Sobolewski added 12 and Jack Nolan scored 11. The Redwings were a balanced team throughout the season. They won 16 consecutive games, including an upset over Simeon in the semifinals, before losing to Curie.

Coach Gene Heidkamp led Benet to a second place finish in 2014. The Redwings lost to Young and Jahlil Okafor that year.

“It’s just one of those stories,” Heidkamp said. “We weren’t the biggest team around, we didn’t have the college accolades, but they played hard. There isn’t a coach around that is any prouder of their team.”

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