Hillcrest dominates Leo, continues to emerge as Class 3A state contender

When things are going well, Hillcrest is as eye-opening and exciting as any team in the area. The Hawks have a combination of Kenwood’s showtime and Glenbard West’s size.

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Hillcrest’s Aa’Reyon Munir Jones (5) controls the ball as the Hawks play Leo.

Hillcrest’s Aa’Reyon Munir Jones (5) controls the ball as the Hawks play Leo.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

When things are going well, Hillcrest is as eye-opening and exciting as any team in the area. The Hawks have a combination of Kenwood’s showtime and Glenbard West’s size. It’s a tantalizing combination that proved far too much for visiting Leo on Tuesday.

No. 7 Hillcrest held the No. 14 Lions to just three points for a seven-minute stretch of the third quarter and cruised to a 65-41 victory.

The Hawks (17-2) have had difficulty dealing with full-court pressure defense this season. It was their downfall in the Big Dipper championship game against Hyde Park and a constant worry against Glenbard West.

Leo was able to rattle the Hillcrest backcourt a bit early in the game, but Bryce Tillery and Isaiah Green, and Aa’Reyon Munir-Jones settled in, sucked up the pressure, and turned it into alley-oop dunks for the Hawks’ big men.

“Coming into games we kind of get ourselves riled up and I think we are anxious throughout the day,” Tiller said. “Two or three minutes in we calm down and start playing basketball.”

Munir-Jones is a transfer from Tinley Park. Darrion Baker, a 6-7 junior, transferred from St. Rita. Even though it is mid-January, the Hawks are still working on blending together all of their talented players.

“I don’t know how to explain it because everybody can score but sometimes we don’t know who to go to,” Tillery said. “It’s something that we are working on and getting better at every day in practice.”

Tillery scored 10 points and Munir-Jones had eight points and six rebounds and Green, a sophomore, scored 11.

Baker, playing with a heavy heart after attending a family funeral earlier in the day, scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Matthew Moore, a 6-7 junior, had six points and eight rebounds and 6-7 senior Marcus Glover scored nine.

That kind of size is a problem for almost any team, but Leo is the smallest team in the Super 25. Cam Cleveland and Austin Ford, both 6-3, are the Lions’ tallest starters.

“We knew it was a mismatch for us but I thought with our toughness that we would have matched it,” Leo coach Jamal Thompson said. “But they are big.”

Ford and Cleveland each scored 10 points for the Lions (11-3) and Jakeem Cole added nine.

“Sometimes we need a little butt-kicking to bring us back to reality,” Thompson said. “But my team is fine. We will go back to work tomorrow and get better.”

Hillcrest’s Darrion Baker (0) brings the Hawks crowd to their feet with a strong dunk against Leo.

Hillcrest’s Darrion Baker (0) brings the Hawks crowd to their feet with a strong dunk against Leo.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Simeon’s recent dominant play has cast a shadow over all of Class 3A. Hillcrest is one team that has the size and talent to give the Wolverines a battle. The Hawks’ three-point loss to No. 1 Glenbard West in early December was the first indication of that.

“It’s all about the mentality and which teams have the killer instinct to put things away,” Hillcrest coach Don Houston said. “I think this team has that killer instinct. But sometimes we are worried about the wrong things and we don’t put it together mentally. We’re trying to put it together.”

The majority of Houston’s rotation is made up of juniors. So next season may be the best chance Hillcrest has at another state title. But the expectations for this season are high.

“We need to get down state,” Houston said. “If we don’t get there we look at it as a disappointment.”

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