Curie arrived in Oak Forest with the area’s top ranking and a 24-2 record. The host Bengals had a similar record at 25-1 but did not enjoy the statewide respect the Condors have earned.
“People have criticized who we are, and even though we didn’t win the game, we showed we can play with the best that there is,” Oak Forest coach Matt Manzke said.
The Bengals haven’t faced the same rugged schedule as most of the top-10 teams. But it isn’t easy for a newly successful program to get those games. So Saturday was a major opportunity and terrific learning experience, despite the 66-55 loss.
“We scheduled this game to get ready for next week [a conference showdown against Hillcrest] and the playoffs,” Manzke said. “We knew we needed this challenge.”
Saiveon Williams led the Condors (26-2) with 22 points and four rebounds. He has become one of the area’s best finishers in the post.
“We knew we had to bring it [after the loss to Simeon in the city playoffs],” Williams said. “There wasn’t any room for mistakes.”
Senior Ramean Hinton had 19 points and five rebounds for Curie, which built a 52-40 lead late in the third quarter.
“I just came out and stayed positive and made sure the crowd didn’t take me out of the game,” Hinton said. “This is what we were waiting for, we knew what we were getting. We played hard, Curie basketball.”
Oak Forest (25-2) hasn’t won its conference since 1987. This has been an incredibly special season for the Bengals. The sold-out gym showed the community is firmly behind the basketball team.
“[Oak Forest] has a lot of talent,” Curie interim coach Larry Wallace said. “That’s a good team that will be very tough in Class 3A.”
Guard Jayson Kent, one of the state’s best unsigned seniors, led the Bengals with 17 points and five rebounds. Sophomore Robbie Avila added 14 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
“Kent can battle,” Manzke said. “He gets the best defender every [game] and he continues to produce against everyone we played.”
The game was a late addition to the schedule. Curie also added a game against Notre Dame, another Class 3A power, next week.
“The coaches asked us if we wanted to play two tough games like this, and we said to bring it on,” Williams said. “We wanted these tests in these hostile environments.”
Oak Forest will try to win the South Suburban Blue championship Friday against Hillcrest. Hanging with Curie will be a huge confidence boost.
“There were times I felt like we overpassed it,” Manzke said. “On a lot of the turnovers we probably should have taken it to the basket and we made the extra pass. We are unselfish but I think that hurt us today. When we look at this film we will talk about it, and I hope it helps us get to the next level.”
Curie coach Mike Oliver has been suspended since late January. Chicago Public Schools removed him from his security position after an allegation of a physical altercation with a student.
“We go out and win for him,” Hinton said. “All the wins are for Coach Mike.”