Simeon vs. Young. Three very exciting words for high school basketball fans. The colossal matchup of the state’s two powerhouse programs drew a large crowd out in the suburbs, even with all the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus.
Robert Smith and Tyrone Slaughter are the coaches responsible for the decades of success, but each game comes down to the star players on the court. And there isn’t a bigger star in the state than Dolphins senior DJ Steward.
The Duke recruit proved that again on Wednesday, leading Young to a 68-54 win against the Wolverines in a Class 4A sectional semifinal at Lyons.
The first half was an ugly draw. Both teams shot poorly and the Dolphins led by six. Then Steward dominated the third quarter. He scored 13 consecutive points to give Young a 43-30 lead.
“He’s a McDonald’s All-American,” Slaughter said. “That’s what you are supposed to do. When you are the best player in the state you have to make plays and he did that.”
Steward hit three three-pointers in the run. He had an electrifying steal and fastbreak layup and scored in the post. A bit of everything.
“My teammates and coaches kept motivating me,” Steward said. “They told me the shots were going to fall in the second half. I just continued to work hard for the shots and made them.”
Steward, the Sun-Times Player of the Year, finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Georgetown recruit Tyler Beard added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Dolphins (21-9). Freshman point guard Dalen Davis also scored 13.
“[Davis] has always been a mature basketball player,” Steward said. “Today he really showed that. He went out and made his presence felt. I love how he played. He carried the team, handled the ball and defended well.”
Slaughter made a change to his starting lineup, going with guard Elliott Sieger instead of a taller player.
“We went with a smaller lineup because they had been going small recently and I think that caused them some confusion,” Slaughter said. “Also our guys did a good job of limiting their offensive rebounds. That’s where they have hurt people a lot is second chance shots.”
Simeon (24-9) was led by DePaul recruit Ahamad Bynum’s 19 points. Sophomore Avyion Morris added 10.
“It seemed like they wanted it a little bit more than we did, especially in the first half,” Smith said. “The first half was kinda weird. We were down and we couldn’t get the lead and couldn’t get any flow. It reminded me of how we were playing early in the season. And we never recovered.”
Senior Jeremiah Williams, whose dominant play led the Wolverines to the city title last month, was limited to just two points.
“I valued Jeremiah as the most important player on that team,” Slaughter said. Especially how he played the second half of the season. He’s done everything. Our guys did a great job to keep him from getting into it. Elliott did an outstanding job.
Young will face top-ranked Curie in the sectional final on Friday at Lyons.