Unselfish Morton handles Proviso East, improves to 21-6

Jesus Perez finished with 18 points and Manny Rodriguez led the way with 23.

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Morton’s Jesus Perez (3) shoots the ball past Proviso East.

Morton’s Jesus Perez (3) shoots the ball past Proviso East.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Proviso East’s historic old gym is loaded with reminders of the school’s basketball dominance. On the way in is a nearly life-sized tribute to Doc Rivers. Four state championship banners hang over the court, and each corner of the gym is devoted to a former star, from Michael Finley to Shannon Brown.

Donnie Boyce, another former Proviso great, is the team’s coach.Sherrell Ford, Boyce’s old running mate, is an assistant coach.

But all that history doesn’t mean a lot to teenagers. The gym in Maywood is intimidating because of the loud fans who still pack the place — and one other factor.

“That band is crazy,” Morton senior Manny Rodriguez said. “We all love that band. It’s so fun having all that energy against us.”

Morton beat Proviso East 76-63 on Friday night. An unselfish, confident Mustangs team relished the challenge.

“We knew it was going to get hectic in their environment,” Morton junior Jesus Perez said. “We kept our cool and stayed calm and played our game. We didn’t let anything get into our head, and the result we got was what we wanted.”

Perez, an excellent ballhandler who can run the team at point guard and also create his own shot, finished with 18 points. Rodriguez led the way with 23.

“Kendall [Nichols] is our leading scorer, but he had foul trouble and didn’t have much of a game, and we still had them down 20 at one point,” Mustangs coach Tony Martinucci said. “If you have three legit scorers, you can beat a lot of teams.”

Martinucci has the scorers, and also the chemistry. The ball moves quickly to the open man.

“They like each other,” Martinucci said. “Last year’s group was talented, but we didn’t take off because they didn’t really like each other. These guys saw that and over the summer decided they were going to like each other. That is the most important thing.”

Nichols scored seven points and Josh Dowdell added 10 points and four rebounds off the bench.

Despite finishing second at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, the Mustangs (21-6, 10-2 West Suburban Gold) haven’t received much attention.

“We know we’re the underdogs, whether it’s against Proviso East or any city team,” Perez said. “But that’s fine. We’re OK with it.”

Morton has won nine of its last 10 games.

“We won out in February,” Martinucci said. “We thought we could. We’re playing our best basketball. We could lose to anybody, but we’re playing good right now. We’ve developed a bench with eight or nine guys that can play. Orlando [Cervantes] had an awesome game with eight or nine steals.”

Proviso East (16-11, 7-5) was also on a roll entering the game, winning five of its last six, including a big one against conference leader Hinsdale South. The Pirates only trailed by one at halftime but were undone by a four-minute scoreless streak in the third quarter.

“It was a combination of a really good, strong, guard-oriented team playing to their strengths, and our youth and lack of fundamentals,” Boyce said. “It exposed us.”

Terrence Thomas led Proviso East with 17 points, and Michael Osborne added 15. Latrell Boyle grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds and scored six points.

“I had to learn a lesson with patience this year,” Boyce said. “And they had to learn some lessons. I’m really proud of this team. We only had two guys back that played a lot. But it’s going to be tough in that monster sectional.”

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