Kenwood’s season has been a roller coaster. Nationally-ranked junior JJ Taylor left for Donda Prep just days before the first game. Dai Dai Ames, the star junior guard who stayed, has battled a knee injury and never really been fully fit.
That would be enough to sideline most teams, but Broncos coach Mike Irvin has a wealth of talent on hand. It’s been a process throughout the season, finding the right fit for each of the pieces.
The Broncos handled Bloom 56-43 on Tuesday in South Holland. The game wasn’t as close as the score indicates. Kenwood easily won the Class 4A Thornwood Sectional semifinal game and showed that the puzzle pieces may be starting to fall into place.
Ames scored just five points and left the game midway through the third quarter when his injury flared up again. But the Broncos didn’t need showtime because they are starting to conquer what had been their biggest weakness this season: rebounding.
Kenwood outrebounded the Blazing Trojans 43-26. Bloom has two excellent big men in 6-8 senior Emondrek Erkins-Ford and 6-7 junior Michael Garner Jr., but neither was able to establish a significant presence in the post.
“When my shot isn’t falling my role is rebounding,” Kenwood junior Davis Loury said. “When we are rebounding it opens up secondary shots. We all need to crash the glass.”
Loury is 6-7 and athletic, an excellent leaper with long arms. He’s basically the perfect rebounder. But he also has guard skills so he plays on the wing in the summer.
“I can play both,” Loury said. “Everyone is smaller in high school so I know I can focus and make an impact down low.”
Loury had six points and 13 rebounds. Senior Trey Pettigrew, a Nevada recruit, led the Broncos with 15 points and six rebounds.
“We’ve just been stressing the rebounding and defense every day in practice,” Pettigrew said. “It’s all about the little things and we’re starting to do it.”
That’s exactly the case. Kenwood didn’t blow the fans away with showtime. There weren’t long threes or big dunks. The Broncos won the loose balls and earned a hard-nosed playoff victory.
“They crashed the board and got all the 50/50 balls and second opportunities,” Bloom coach Dante Maddox said. “The third quarter we were down nine and there were a couple of balls we just didn’t get. We have to get those.”
Darius Robinson added 13 points for Kenwood (25-8) and sophomore Calvin Robins came off the bench to contribute six points, six rebounds, and three blocks.
“We have the size, we just weren’t putting bodies on people,” Irvin said. “That’s improving now and our defense has been amazing recently. The last three or four games we’ve been holding some really good opponents down.”
Junior guard Jordan Brown led Bloom (22-6) with 14 points and Erkins-Ford added 10 points and five rebounds.
Kenwood will face the St. Rita vs. Homewood-Flossmoor winner in the sectional final on Friday.
The Broncos have attracted big crowds throughout the season and packed the gym in South Holland. They are now just two wins from the state finals in Champaign.
“I don’t want to lose. I just really don’t want to lose,” Pettigrew said. “Finishing my career in Champaign, that would be huge, that would be the right way to go out.”