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Jaiden Lee’s big second half leads short-handed Joliet West past Hillcrest

On Saturday in the Romeoville Shootout at Lewis University, Lee turned in a gutty, aggressive performance to lead the No. 14 Tigers past the No. 22 Hawks 57-55. 

Joliet West’s Jaiden Lee drives to the basket as the Tigers play Hillcrest.
Joliet West’s Jaiden Lee drives to the basket as the Tigers play Hillcrest.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Joliet West vaulted into and up the rankings this season behind the play of senior Jamere Hill. He evolved from almost a complete unknown to a Toledo recruit in just more than a month.

But Hill has been out with a knee injury the last few weeks, one of several Tigers battling injuries. That has forced freshman Jayden Martin and sophomore Skyler Crudup into the starting lineup. Both were on the sophomore team just two weeks ago.

On Saturday in the Romeoville Shootout at Lewis University, junior Jaiden Lee turned in a gutty, aggressive performance to lead No. 14 Joliet West past No. 22 Hillcrest 57-55. Lee scored 21 points, 19 in the second half.

‘‘Without Jamere, one of our best players, we just had to play hard and do what we could to get the win,’’ Lee said. ‘‘We defended and rebounded.’’

Lee is already well-regarded by recruiting evaluators, but this is the first time he has had the weight of the team on his shoulders.

‘‘His ability to score in bunches and his versatility at his size are so special,’’ Tigers coach Jeremy Kreiger said. ‘‘I looked at him and told him to bring it home. He made big shots, made big free throws. He guarded with length. He was very special for us.’’

The Hawks (17-8) led by seven points midway through the fourth quarter, but Joliet West (22-4) fought back to four points with 1:42 left, then didn’t allow Hillcrest a basket the rest of the way. Two free throws by junior Terrance Moncrief with 23 seconds left gave the Tigers the lead for good.

Hawks junior Mar’Keise Irving missed a potential go-ahead three-pointer with seven seconds left, and junior Julius Rollins had a potential tying layup blocked at the buzzer.

Moncrief wasn’t playing a ton of minutes until the injury bug hit Joliet West.

‘‘We are super-proud of Terrance,’’ Kreiger said. ‘‘He’s had an up-and-down season, but it was huge to step to the line on a college floor against a ranked team and make those free throws. And the defense he played down the stretch, he forced them to play sped up, so they couldn’t stall it.’’

Irving led Hillcrest with 23 points. Junior Trent Howland added 10 points and seven rebounds for Joliet West, which won despite committing 26 turnovers.

‘‘We can’t control four guys rolling ankles and one guy hurting his knee,’’ Kreiger said. ‘‘But this just adds to our experience for the playoffs. When young guys can step up back-to-back weekends against Bolingbrook and Hillcrest and still take care of business in conference, that gets us ready for March because we want that sectional championship at Lockport.’’

Kreiger said it might be two weeks before Hill returns from his knee injury, which means he would be ready for the playoffs. But Joliet West isn’t falling apart without him.

‘‘This shows us we don’t need one person to do anything,’’ Moncrief said. ‘‘We can come together as a team to get the win.’’