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O’Brien: Simeon passes difficult test from Marian Catholic

Zach Norvell and Evan Gilyard have done most of the scoring for Simeon this season. They’ve turned in big-time performances in this season’s biggest games.

But senior Josh Thomas was the hero on Tuesday in Chicago Heights.

A capacity crowd showed up to see if Marian Catholic could take down the top-ranked Wolverines. The Spartans are tall and talented, but also young and inexperienced, especially compared to Simeon.

Marian Catholic had the Wolverines on the ropes and led with just more than four minutes to play, but Simeon found a way at the end and grabbed a 62-57 win in the Class 4A Bloom sectional semifinal.

It was a conventional three-point play from Thomas with 4:06 to play that tied the game. Thomas is big and strong, and once he heads to the basket he’s difficult to stop. He’s also a tremendous finisher. The basket and free-throw tied the score at 50 and Simeon never trailed again.

“[Norvell] has been doing most of that dirty work this year so it was time for [Thomas] to step up and do the dirty work,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. [Thomas] made some big plays.”

For an 11 minute stretch of the second half it looked like the Spartans (23-6) were going to pull of the upset. They used their size advantage to dominate the boards and score in the post. But in the final few minutes of the game Simeon was more aggressive attacking the basket and rougher when fighting for the ball.

Thomas thinks it might have been a city vs. suburban issue.

“We have more street ball in us,” Thomas said. “We grew up in tough areas and tough neighborhoods playing with no fouls, so I think that prepared us for this more than it did the suburban guys. No offense to them.”

Marian Catholic coach Mike Taylor thinks it was just an age issue.

“That was one of the worries when I scouted them, they are just more mature,” Taylor said. “They hold their spot better than we do. You have to give them credit. They had to work to win, but they kept their composure.”

Thomas scored 15 and grabbed seven boards, a handful that were crucial in the final minutes. Zach Norvell scored 15 and Evan Gilyard added 13 points for Simeon (27-3). The looked every bit the state title favorites that they are. The vast majority of ranked teams in the area would have lost in that atmosphere and against that Marian Catholic performance.

“The last two games we played were difficult for us,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “We’d never played a team as patient as Brother Rice or with as much height as Marian Catholic. It kind of threw us for a loop at first but the guys responded down the stretch when we needed them to.”

Austin Richie led Marian Catholic with 17 points and Myles Howard had 11 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore point guard Chase Adams added nine points and four assists. The future is bright for the Spartans, most of the team returns next season.

“I’m proud of them,” Taylor said. “We had a chance to win. At some point youth can’t be an excuse, they’ve all played about 60 games now. But that physical maturity was the difference.”