Uplift’s Markese Jacobs darted in and out, pestered the ball on both ends of the court, converted breakaway layups and step-back 3-pointers alike, got to the foul line repeatedly and, when he wasn’t doing any of those things, consistently found teammates for wide-open looks.
And all that still wasn’t enough for the No. 19 Titans against a surging No. 25 Orr, which rode a big day from Tujautae Williams and a breakout performance from new star Sherif Kenney to a statement-making 66-60 win on Wednesday.
Williams put up a 21-point, 11-rebound double-double and Kenney added 19 points and a hefty handful of assists for the visiting Spartans (11-7, 5-0), which remained unbeaten in Red-West/North play and created some breathing room between themselves and Uplift (9-5, 3-2).
“We’re just trying to stay afloat, trying to make sure we stay around the pack. Don’t want to slip,” Orr coach Lou Adams said. “Markese Jacobs is one of the best players in the state. We just wanted to contain him and control the game, and we pretty much did that.”
Jacobs, a DePaul commit, was by far the night’s leading scorer, going 11-of-20 from the floor and 10-of-12 at the stripe en route to 36 points. But in a game that essentially boiled down to a two-versus-one battle he simply couldn’t get enough help.
The rest of the Titans weren’t able to take advantage of the space Jacobs created and made just one of 14 three-point attempts collectively. Detalian Brown did tally a respectable 13 points and five boards, but even he went 0-for-6 from deep.
Uplift nevertheless did fight back from a 17-point deficit in the third quarter to pull within one point, 60-59, with 3:10 to play. Titans coach David Taylor credited the comeback to defensive adjustments that increased pressure and forced some turnovers that produced easy baskets.
“We were trapping, doubling the ball, and we did it with a lot of aggression and intensity, and it paid off,” Taylor said. “The refs were doing a good job: for the most part, they let us play, so that’s why we were able to get our hands in there and tap away some lose balls and fight back into the game.”
In the final minutes, however, things unraveled for Uplift, which was hoping to avenge a loss to Orr in last year’s 2A playoffs. The Titans committed two ugly turnovers and couldn’t get much-needed threes from Jacobs and Taijay Brown to fall.
“Lack of execution down the stretch. We had two out-of-bounds plays where we threw the ball away, and that was the death note,” Taylor said. “My guys looked like deer in the headlights. … Simple stuff cost us.”
Kenney and Williams, to be fair, were two rather intimidating headlights.
Kenney, a Brewster Academy transfer with numerous high-major offers, went 3-for-4 from deep but clearly preferred to post up smaller defenders inside and then find a cutting Williams, which he did time and time again.
That allowed Williams’ athleticism to really shine. The guard with quickly ascending recruiting interest of his own seemed to rise to the rim like a helicopter — even in heavy traffic — and went 10-for-15 from the floor, all coming within feet of the basket.
“(Tujautae has) been doing the same thing all year,” Adams said. “He gets to the right spots on the floor, and he’s the most athletic player in the state of Illinois. He can get it done offensively and defensively, and he played pretty good tonight.”