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It was originally just another mundane nonconference boys basketball game on a Wednesday night between Mooseheart and Hinckley-Big Rock.
But the game took on a life of its own in recent days as three Sudanese Mooseheart players were ruled ineligible by the IHSA, only to be allowed back onto the court thanks to a Kane County judge Tuesday. The other backdrop was the allegation that Hinckley had been the school that alerted the IHSA to the matter, an allegation it denied.
Television stations, radio stations and several print outlets made the game a priority, as did the overflow crowd of around 1,000, and the dozens of people turned away well before tip-off due to the packed gym.
What wound up happening was that the game itself became the story.
Mooseheart held a 10-point lead three minutes into the fourth quarter, only to see the Royals end the game on a 21-4 run to pull out a 58-51 win in an electric atmosphere.
“I knew we were going to have a big crowd,” H-BR coach Bill Sambrookes said. “I didn’t expect to have to turn people away. It was a great basketball game. The kids on both sides played hard, did everything they could do and they gave the crowd a great show.”
Hinckley (5-1) jumped out to a 10-0 lead, fueled by a pair of three-pointers from Mitch Ruh, before Mooseheart (3-3) took a timeout and regrouped. The Ramblers ripped off a 15-0 run to end the first quarter and took a 15-10 lead.
Hinckley took a 31-27 lead after three consecutive three-pointers in the third quarter before another big Mooseheart run brought the Ramblers back. A 14-0 run was started by an alley-oop dunk from Mangisto Deng to Makur Puou, two of the Sudanese players under investigation by the IHSA. Another Deng dunk in the fourth helped Mooseheart take a 47-37 lead with 5:01 left in the game.
“At that time, I thought we’re going to win this game,” Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said.
But Hinckley’s veteran guard tandem of Jared Madden and Bernie Conley had other ideas. Madden scored 16 of his team-high 24 points in the fourth quarter and Conley scored 10 in the game, all while harassing Mooseheart’s inexperienced guards into nine fourth-quarter turnovers.
Puou starred for Mooseheart, scoring 25 points to go with 17 rebounds. Deng added 13 points and Akim Nyang hauled down 10 rebounds. All three await their fate at an IHSA hearing on Monday.
In the end, all of the situations many expected to see never materialized. All that happened was that about 1,000 people got to see a great high school basketball game.
“I know it’s been tough, and I don’t think there was any rivalry or anything like that,” Ahrens said. “At the end of the day, it’s a game. We wake up tomorrow, they’re going to school, I’m going to work. We got beat in a game. We have a lot of games left. That’s what I want to keep telling them.”