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Jalen Griffith, Simeon sparkle in Pontiac championship-game win against Curie

Jalen Griffith’s smooth poise was evident throughout Simeon’s 71-58 victory against Curie in the championship game of the 90th Pontiac Holiday Tournament on Thursday night. 

Simeon’s Jalen Griffith (2) dribbles around Curie’s Jeremy Harrington, Jr.
Simeon’s Jalen Griffith (2) dribbles around Curie’s Jeremy Harrington, Jr.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

PONTIAC, ILL–Jalen Griffith was a highlight-reel star as an eighth grader, one of those names that everyone in the Chicago basketball community knows before he even steps on the court in high school.

Griffith has been a regular for Simeon since he was a freshman. He was key player on the city championship winning team in 2020. Despite his small frame he’s never been overmatched, even on the biggest stages.

He’s fully coming into his own now as a junior. He was the difference-maker in the Wolverines’ come from behind overtime semifinal win against New Trier on Thursday afternoon, draining three consecutive three-pointers in the fourth quarter.

His smooth poise was evident throughout Simeon’s 71-58 win against Curie in the championship game of the 90th Pontiac Holiday Tournament on Thursday night.

“We’ve been in all kinds of situations together over the past few years,” Griffith, who scored a game-high 17 points, said. “It doesn’t matter when we get behind. We know how to come together as a group in every environment.”

That’s a luxury that Curie didn’t have. None of the Condors had ever played at Pontiac before. There was no tournament last year due to COVID. It was the first time the tournament wasn’t held since 1947, when it was abandoned for six years during World War 2.

“We ran out of gas,” Condors coach Mike Oliver said. “This was the first adversity we had really been through. It was our first road trip since COVID. It was all a learning experience. Until you experience the atmosphere here you don’t understand it.”

Curie led by three at halftime but Simeon senior Jaylen Drane changed things in a hurry in the third quarter. He scored six quick points to jump start a 10-2 run that gave Simeon a 40-35 lead it never relinquished.

Simeon’s Wesley Rubin (10) slams home two point against Curie.
Simeon’s Wesley Rubin (10) slams home two point against Curie.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

“Pressing us is a waste of time with [Drane, Griffith and Aviyon Morris] out there,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “People think they can do it. When they are aggressive with the press we get right through it and our big guys finish.”

Simeon (9-1) was clearly the most talented team at the tournament. It was also significantly deeper than any other team. The Wolverines’ three guards are established stars and Miles and Wes Rubin, a pair of 6-8 juniors, are having breakout seniors. But over the past three days Simeon received significant contributions from several unknown players.

Junior Michael Ratliff, senior Nicholas Robinson and senior Jayquan Adams all provided major contributions off the bench and made big plays. That’s a major factor when the semifinal and title games are played on the same day.

“We don’t win this tournament without the guys on the bench,” Drane said. “They came in and made plays and gave us energy when we really needed it.”

Drane scored 14 in the title game. Miles Rubin had nine points and Wes Rubin added eight points and 10 rebounds.

Sophomore Carlos Harris led the Condors (15-1) with 21 points and junior Jeremy Harrington added 17 points and nine rebounds.

It’s the 15th title for Simeon, the first since 2017. Curie had won the past two tournaments.

“I’m pleased guys got this experience,” Oliver said. “They took their first loss and now we will see how they bounce back.”

The teams meet again on Thursday at Simeon in a conference game.