PEORIA—The recruiting experts have drooled over Simeon junior Talen Horton-Tucker for the past two seasons. His size and skills are eye-popping and unique. The 6-5 junior has a Charles Barkley type game and body, which is not the type of comparison regularly applied to high school players.
All of those qualities were on display in the Wolverines 60-50 win against Bolingbrook in the Class 4A State Semifinals on Friday.
Horton-Tucker finished with 24 points, six rebounds and six assists.
“I just keep going at them,” Horton-Tucker said. “It doesn’t matter who is guarding us.”
Bolingbrook led 26-21 at the half. Simeon slowed things down and forced the Raiders (29-2) into several half-court possessions in the third and changed the pace of the game.
“We noticed on film they weren’t a good half court team,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “We did a great job of handling their pressure and then was able to slow them down. I thought we were able to do that for about six minutes.”
Horton-Tucker didn’t just score. He created most of the Wolverines’ offensive opportunities in the second half. Messiah Jones was dominant in the post, he helped give Simeon an 11-rebound advantage in the second half.
“I thought the fans got what they wanted to see. Great, high intensity basketball,” Smith said. “It was probably like a mid-major college basketball game and not a high school game.”
Jones finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds and senior Evan Gilyard added 15 points. He was 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
Horton-Tucker seemed to raise his level of play to take on Bolingbrook’s strong 6-6 senior Malik Binns.
“[Horton-Tucker] is a good athlete,” Binns said. “I played him a couple times before. He’s better then last time. We went at each other, it was more of a physical game.”
Binns finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. Nebraska recruit Nana Akenten led the Raiders with 16 points and sophomore Joseph Yesufu scored nine.
“We are one of the best teams in the state,” Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost said. “We believed it right from the get go. We weren’t content at halftime to be up. From a skill standpoint we are as a good as they are. From an athleticism standpoint we are as good as they are.”
Simeon will play Young for the Class 4A state championship on Saturday. The Wolverines beat the Dolphins in the regular season and in the Public League playoffs.
Smith broke with typical coaching traditions and actually talked to his team about the possibility of playing Young a few days ago.
“I wanted them to start thinking about it,” Smith said. “It’s very difficult to beat a team that good three times in a season. We have to come out like it is the first time.”
PEORIA—Young coach Tyrone Slaughter made a bad decision in the second quarter of the Dolphins’ 53-47 victory against Fremd in the Class 4A State Semifinals at Carver Arena on Friday.
Young was crushing the Vikings 29-12 with three minutes to play in the first half and Slaughter decided to pull the ball out, slow things down and kill some clock.
“I’m not a very good coach and when you aren’t a good coach you do dumb things,” Slaughter joked. “That really wasn’t a good decision. When it happened we had put some subs in, were trying to get some starters some rest. It would have been more prudent and wise to keep going. I’m still learning.”
The move changed the game. Fremd (31-1) was able to find its footing. The Vikings closed the second quarter on a 7-0 run and headed to the locker room trailing by 10 points.
“We were getting adjusted to the stage in the first half,” Fremd senior Shaan Patel said. “They came out with a pretty fast pace, something we don’t usually play.”
The Vikings chopped away at the lead and finally tied the game at 40 on a basket from Brian Dompke with 4:55 to play.
Fremd’s leading scorer and buzzer-beater specialist Kyle Sliwa fouled out with 1:09 to play. The Vikings were down 47-45.
“We knew he was the go-to shooter so we were trying to pressure him and keep him out of the game,” Young junior Javon Freeman said.
Lucas Williamson led Young (26-7) with 17 points and eight rebounds. Senior Craig Beaudion scored 12 and Freeman and Xavier Castaneda each added nine.
“We played fantastic in the second half, battled back,” Fremd coach Bob Widlowski said. “We were one possession away from playing in the state championship game. It’s a tough way to lose their first game of the season.”
The Dolphins shot 14-for-19 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. They held off Fremd’s late charge, something no other team has done this season.
“This team has exhibited mental toughness all year,” Slaughter said.  We lost a considerable lead. Fremd had a little flavor and a little zest around them. We were able to wrestle away with them and control the game.”
Patel led Fremd with 13 points and 10 rebounds, he played an impressive all-around game. Dompke scored 13 and grabbed seven boards. Sliwa, who averages 17 points, scored eight and Ryan Martin added 10 points.
The Mid-Suburban League has been on a down cycle the past few seasons. The Vikings earned some respect.
“They were 31-0 for a reason, that’s a good basketball team,” Slaughter said. “They play well, they play hard and they play to win.”