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Simeon survives New Trier, Curie beats Benet to set up Red-South/Central final at Pontiac

Simeon’s three guards — Jaylen Drane, Jalen Griffith and Aviyon Morris — helped win a city title in 2020, and they have coach Robert Smith’s full-throated endorsement. 

Simeon’s Jaylen Drane (1) shoots over New Trier’s Jackson Munro (41).
Simeon’s Jaylen Drane (1) shoots over New Trier’s Jackson Munro (41).
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Pontiac, Ill. — Jaylen Drane, Jalen Griffith and Aviyon Morris are Simeon’s three guards who helped win a city title in 2020 and they have coach Robert Smith’s full-throated endorsement.

“That’s the core of our team,” Smith said. “They have the experience. I would take those three against anybody. I really would. They are just tough and they want to win.”

The Wolverines’ talented trio somehow found a way in a 69-66 overtime win against New Trier on Thursday in the semifinals of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

The Trevians (14-2) led by 15 early in the fourth quarter. Then, Simeon (9-1) turned on the pressure. New Trier began turning the ball over and Griffith and Drane made big three pointers.

But the Trevians led 61-55 with less than a minute left in regulation. Drane was fouled beyond the arc and heaved up a desperation shot. It went in. He hit the free throw for a four-point play with 33 second left to pull Simeon within two points.

Griffith stole the ball on New Trier’s next possession and Miles Rubin scored on a fast break to tie the game at 61. Simeon stole the ball again, but Drane’s layup just before the buzzer rimmed out and sent the game to overtime.

“We wanted to wear them down some and then in the last few minutes put pressure on them and see if they could really handle the ball,” Smith said. “We saw last night that West Aurora in the fourth quarter pushed up on them and they started turning the ball over. We didn’t want to show it too early. But when we got down like that we thought it was time.”

Simeon jumped out to a four-point lead in overtime and held on to win despite shooting just 1 of 4 from the free-throw line in the final 23 seconds.

Drane finished with 22 points. Morris had 14 points and five assists and Griffith scored 15.

Morris did an excellent job guarding New Trier’s lead guard, junior Jake Fiegen.

“It was my job to slow him down and I did everything I could,” Morris said. “We knew that taking him out would put a lot of pressure on the rest of their team.”

Jackson Munro, a 6-8 Dartmouth recruit, stepped up for the Trevians. He finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots.

“We had a decision to make,” Smith said. “Either stop [Fiegen or Munro]. We thought Fiegen was the better guy to stop. Someone has to make baskets, but of course he made too many. But you have to take away the head.”

Fiegen, who scored 10 points for New Trier, fouled out early in overtime.

Simeon faced Curie in the championship game on Thursday night.

The Condors knocked off Benet 53-42 in the second semifinal. Curie has won the last two tournament championships.

Jeremy Harrington, a 6-5 junior, stepped up to battle Benet’s 6-10 senior Kyle Thomas. Harrington finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Curie’s other big, Chikasi Ofoma, added 14 points and three rebounds. Senior Phoenix Bullock added 13 points.

The Condors (15-0) won with their defense. Benet (8-2) went long stretches between baskets for most of the second half.

Curie’s Phoenix Bullock (1) drives toward the basket as the Condors play Benet, Pontiac, Illinois, December 30, 2021.
Curie’s Phoenix Bullock (1) drives toward the basket as the Condors play Benet, Pontiac, Illinois, December 30, 2021.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

“We just wanted to make it tough for them and be active and not let them get second chance points or open threes,” Ofoma said. “Jeremy and I have been doing really well in the post and we are embracing it.”

Thomas had eight points and 13 rebounds. Brady Kunka led the Redwings with 11 points. Benet shot 14-for-43 from the field

“We tried to put pressure on their guards and front the post,” Curie coach Mike Oliver said. “The guys did a good job. Winning this third championship in a row is important to us. It would put us in that elite class with Simeon and Peoria Manual.”