NORMAL—Edwardsville has been the talk of the state this season. The Tigers arrived at the Class 4A Illinois State Supersectional with a 30-1 record and the leading candidate for Mr. Basketball, senior Mark Smith.
The game against Simeon had been hyped as the possible state championship game, but it certainly didn’t turn out that way. The Wolverines dominated from the start and won 76-64. Simeon heads to state for the tenth time in the past 14 years.
“We just knew if we kind of contained [Smith] that we’d probably be good,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “Make those other guys do some stuff they are not used to doing.”
Smith finished with 12 points. He was 4-for-13 from the field and didn’t score in the fourth quarter. The Wolverines used a box-and-one defense on him.
“We know he likes to put up shots and he controls everything so we just stayed focused on him,” Smith said. “I think we did a great job on him.”
Simeon led 24-15 after the first quarter and 44-27 at half. The Wolverines were red-hot from three-point range in the first half and also got to the rim with ease.
“Watching them on film they didn’t really guard well because they only play five or six people,” Smith said. “So they didn’t want to get in foul trouble. We just wanted to attack the goal as much as possible and see we could get people in foul trouble or make some layups.”
Edwardsville cut Simeon’s lead to eight early in the fourth quarter. Wolverines senior Evan Gilyard, as he has so many times before, stepped up and took control of the game at that point. He scored 17 in the fourth to finish with a game-high 32.
“It was one of my best games,” Gilyard said. “I got teammates involved and just waited my turn. We have multiple people who can score. It’s not like Edwardsville where they have one person that can really score. Everyone on the team can fill it up, can score 20. We have multiple weapons.”
Sophomore guard Kejuan Clements scored 14 for Simeon (29-3) and Messiah Jones added 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“[Clements] was key,” Smith said. “They left him open. He can shoot the ball as well so that’s just a luxury when you have five guys out there that can score.”
Senior big man AJ Epenesa scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Oliver Stephen added 16 and Jack Marinko added 13 points.
“I don’t know if many other teams can beat them,” Smith said. “They can shoot the ball very well they are well coached, they have some people inside who can play. They are a balanced team. We just started off quick and hit them with the first punch.”
The Wolverines will face Bolingbrook in the state semifinals on Friday at Carver Arena in Peoria.