PEORIA—Morgan Park freshman Nimari Burnett might play in the NBA someday. It’s almost guaranteed he’ll be a star college basketball player. His ceiling is unbelievably high. However his story winds up, it will almost certainly begin with what happened on Saturday at Carver Arena in the Class 3A state championship game.
The Mustangs were without star junior Ayo Dosunmu, the team’s leading scorer and point guard. He injured his foot in the semifinals on Friday. Morgan Park trailed most of the fourth quarter but forced an overtime. Burnett knew the final four minutes had to be his time.
“I just thought, man, I have to be great,” Burnett said.
He was. Burnett made three three-pointers in overtime to lead the Mustangs to a 69-67 win against Fenwick. It’s the fourth state title for Morgan Park.
“Nimari loves the moment,” Mustangs coach Nick Irvin said. “He’s been making big shots for us all year. What I’ve been trying to tell him is be patient and wait your turn. Ayo went down and we needed someone else to pick up that slack. Nimari did what he had to do.”
Burnett’s first three in overtime put the Mustangs ahead by two. The second extended the lead to three and the third put the game out of reach, a five-point lead with 20 seconds remaining.
The final shot wasn’t one that most coaches would approve of, the Mustangs had a two-point lead.
“I told him to get one,” Irvin said. “He had it rolling and I knew if he made it it would probably be the dagger. That’s how we play. It’s been a crazy weekend anyway, why not take it.”
“I was hoping they would take a bad shot,” Fenwick coach Rick Malnati said. “It turned out to be a dagger.”
Burnett finished with 24 points. He shot 9-for-15 from the field and 6-for-10 from three-point range.
Senior Cam Irvin scored 12 and senior Melo Burrell added nine points and 10 rebounds for Morgan Park (26-6).
Fenwick was also led by a freshman. As good as Burnett was in the overtime, Friars freshman DJ Steward was even better throughout the game. Steward had 26 points and seven rebounds. He was a perfect 10-for-10 from the field.
“I’m usually the only one getting a lot out of freshmen,” Irvin said. “[Steward] is a good player, he can play. He and Nimari and Marcus [Watson] are going to have battles for a long time.”
A technical foul on Morgan Park late in the third quarter ignited a 13-0 Fenwick lead that put the Friars ahead 51-40 with 5:30 to play. Burnett made a three to help the Mustangs get some footing and then things slowly turned against the Friars (30-5).
Senior Jamal Nixon (five points, four rebounds) fouled out with 2:22 left and then senior point guard Jacob Keller (eight points, five rebounds, six assists, five steals) followed with 43 seconds to play in regulation. Fenwick was forced to play the overtime without their leaders.
“We didn’t play without them all year,” Malnati said.
This was Fenwick’s first time playing in the state title game.
“It was a special year for us at Fenwick,” Malnati said. “Today’s hard. It’s going to be hard for the next few hours. It’s sad that we lost but I love my guys. I’ve got great kids.”
It’s the third state title for Irvin. He’s become one of the state’s most successful coaches in history in short period of time. A lot of that has been due to his ability to trust freshmen.
“It takes a lot of guts to do what a freshman does,” Irvin said. “I’ve been blessed to find some special freshmen.”