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Isaiah Barnes, Jalen Griffith help Simeon hold off Curie’s upset bid

Jalen Griffith didn’t start against Curie, but scored nine of his 13 points to help theerase an 11-point Condors lead in the fourth quarter. 

Simeon’s Jalen Griffith (2) beats one defender and then drives the lane against Curie.
Simeon’s Jalen Griffith (2) beats one defender and then drives the lane against Curie.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Top-ranked Simeon is loaded with talent. The Wolverines have all but one starter back from last season’s city championship squad. Curie is the opposite. The Condors have just one returning starter from a team that spent most of last season at No. 1.

And that starter, point guard Nick Owens, missed Thursday’s season opener with a thumb injury. So it seemed possible the Wolverines would run away with a win. That’s exactly how the game began.

But for the third consecutive season, a Curie team of virtual unknowns proved it is one of the best teams in the state. Simeon needed late-game heroics from Oak Park transfer Isaiah Barnes and sophomore Jalen Griffith to escape with a 72-68 comeback win.

Griffith was Simeon’s highly-touted freshman last year, which is a difficult label for any player to handle. He had a nice season and flashed the potential to show why he is considered one of the state’s top guards in the Class of 2023.

Griffith didn’t start against Curie, but scored nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter to help the Wolverines (1-0) erase an 11-point Condors lead in the fourth quarter.

“I just want to be the point guard that leads the team off the bench,” Griffith said. “Starting doesn’t matter. You need to be able to run the team the right way when it counts.”

“This was probably his second best game,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “He had a good game in St. Louis last season. He stepped up tonight. He’s a sophomore now and we feel a little bit more confident with him out there with the ball and making plays down the stretch.”

Barnes, a Michigan recruit, scored a game-high 28 points and grabbed nine rebounds. He shot 8 for 13 from the field in his first Public League game.

“We haven’t had much time to practice or anything but we click off the court,” Barnes said. “So that really helps on the court as well.”

Simeon had an eight-minute stretch without a field goal late in the second and early in the third quarter. Curie enjoyed a 22-1 run during the drought.

“We started being lax on defense,” Barnes said. “Once we picked up our defense it led to more offense. We got out on the break and things started going our way.”

Junior Jaylen Drane scored 10 for Simeon and Aviyon Morris added seven points, four rebounds and three steals.

“Having a veteran team was key in the fourth quarter against a really good team,” Smith said. “But we have to do a better job of rebounding when our big kids aren’t in the game.”

Senior Cassius Brooks led Curie (0-1) with 14 points and five rebounds and senior Reggie Ward added 11 points and four rebounds. Kendall Brasfield scored 10 and grabbed five boards.

The Condors had chances to tie the game or take the lead on their last few possessions, but rushed things and wound up turning the ball over.

“We just didn’t have the experience to finish it off,” Curie coach Mike Oliver said. “But I’m proud of the way the guys fought out there without their leader. I thought they were gonna be nervous but they weren’t. They took the number one team down to the wire.”

Two promising freshman debuted for Curie, guard Carlos Harris and 6-6 Taevion Collins, the younger brother of former Condors star Cliff Alexander.

Watch the final minutes of Simeon at Curie: