Morgan Park senior Chris Roberts had been waiting all season for a chance to play Lincoln Park, the school from which he transferred last summer. He proved that Tuesday.
When the rest of the Mustangs came out sluggish, it was Roberts who kept his team in the game. He did his job just well enough to get the hosts to the fourth quarter, when star Adam Miller finally took over and carried No. 3 Morgan Park to an intense 72-69 win.
“I told my team to come out strong, because I knew (the Lions) were going to come out strong,” Roberts said. “I just kept that mindset throughout the first quarter and stayed focused and that’s how I ended up getting those baskets.”
The transfer guard tallied 22 points (and eight rebounds) on 9-of-14 shooting — 13 and five in the first half — and Miller finished with 23 points after singlehandedly scoring his team’s first eight of the final quarter.
No. 8 Lincoln Park (20-7) still produced two shots to tie it in the waning seconds, but Morgan Park’s Kyel Grover smothered Lions sharpshooter Julio Montes’ attempt on the final play of the game and the Mustangs (25-3) advanced. They’ll face the winner of Wednesday’s Simeon-Young matchup in Friday’s semifinals.
“I wanted to screen the screener and get the ball to our shooters — one cutting the corner, the other cutting to the top,” Lincoln Park coach Pat Gordon said. “Adam did a good job and playing through the screen. We should’ve faded it, but we didn’t read the cut, so it ended up in a contested shot.”
Michael Robinson scored 16, Ismail Habib tallied 15 and Montes added 14 for the Lions, who relied almost entirely on the three-ball to stay in the game: they made 11 of 22 shots from deep, but were a miserable 11-of-33 from inside the arc and lost the rebounding battle 43-20. 6-8 big man Romelle Howard, recently back in the lineup, was a total non-factor, as Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin successfully schemed a plan to neutralize him.
It was a physical and at-times chippy contest all night long — the two teams shot a combined 33 free throws (and made 29 of them) — and Irvin was upset afterwards about what he considered refereeing bias against his team.
“Everybody talks about how tough we are, and how we’re on probation and all that, and [Miller] gets beat up every game,” Irvin said. “I’m going to start reporting it and writing them up because it happens to him all the time, and if we do something about it, then we’re the bad guys. That’s a sad case.”
Lincoln Park went into a packed gym and led 17-12 after the first quarter, then let that slip away, yet battled back again to take a 52-51 advantage late in the third quarter.
Then Miller, a Player of the Year contender, turned his game into another gear. He said he felt fatigued early on, but the combination of finding his sea legs and getting annoyed by Lincoln Park’s harassing defense unleashed a deadly late-game monster.
“I face this every night, so I’m used to it, and nobody that’s guarding me is stronger than me,” Miller said. “I’m going to drag them down. You can do whatever you want, but you can’t stop me — period.”
Irvin said he liked seeing that fire from Miller and the rest of his squad emerge by the end of the night.
“We’ve won 21 in a row, so sometimes they get bored,” Irvin said. “You’ve got to find something to motivate them. They’re thinking about the city championship instead of thinking about who’s up next.”