Bloom has been a quality, dangerous team all season. The Blazing Trojans knocked off Joliet West and Danville in December and spent a couple months in the Super 25 rankings. But January was rough. The team battled through a couple injuries and lost games to Hyde Park, Lockport and Thornwood.
Senior Austin Richie said the team had one thing in mind heading into Tuesday’s showdown against No. 14 Thornton.
“We wanted to show that we are still here,” Richie said.
The Blazing Trojans proved exactly that with a 75-69 victory in Chicago Heights. It was an all-around team effort offensively and guard Jovante Slater was the defensive star.
The 5-11 senior was tasked with guarding Alonzo Verge, the star attraction in the south suburbs. Verge scored 25, but shot just 6-for-28 from the field.
“Slater is a beast,” Bloom coach Dante Maddox said. “He’s the best defensive player in the state. He’s done it against Verge, against [Crete-Monee star Dwayne] Rose, against everybody. Slater is a problem.”
Slater led the Blazing Trojans (18-6) with 18 points and four steals.
“We just played hard defense and forced [Verge] into difficult shots,” Slater said. “It’s fun when a guy like that comes in to play. Don’t let him drive, foul him and put him on the free throw line.”
Bloom led by three points at the half. Thornton grabbed a brief four-point lead early in the fourth quarter but Bloom responded with a 10-0 run.
“It was a team effort tonight,” Richie said. “We knew Thornton would be tough, knew it would be a great atmosphere. We wanted to protect our home court.”
Richie scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds. Jalen Lee scored 12 and Tramail McCray and Joe Griffin-Howard each scored eight.
Bloom is one of the area’s best undersized teams, but it is starting to get some help in the paint. Chino Johnson, a 6-4 senior, came off the bench to post 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks.
“He’s finally healthy,” Maddox said. “His knee was hurt early in the year so he was a step slow, he’s back. He helps us tremendously because he’s tough, he’s nasty and he plays with heart.”
Orlando Allen had 13 points and six rebounds for Thornton. Christian Anderson scored nine and John White Jr. added eight points and seven rebounds.
The Wildcats had won 12 of their last 13 games, only losing to Curie. Slater acknowledged that Bloom seems to step things up against better competition.
“We play better against the bigger teams,” Slater said. “Sometimes we take teams lightly and we lose. This is huge for momentum going into the playoffs.”
Coaches must submit their seeds for the playoffs on Wednesday night, so the win comes just in time for Bloom.
“That was playoff basketball,” Maddox said. “Together, that’s what I’ve been trying to preach. We didn’t do it all the time but you saw we can be special when we play together.”