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Joliet West's Morris Dunnigan slams on a breakaway against Joliet Central. | Patrick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media

Joliet West coach Luke Yaklich didn’t hesitate for a second with his answer.

“Without question, Morris Dunnigan is the best player I’ve coached. No disrespect to Anthony Shoemaker or Marlon Johnson,” Yaklich said. “Dunnigan makes our entire team better.”

Without Dunnigan, rivals Joliet West and Joliet Central would be evenly matched. The 6-2 senior guard scored 24 points to lead the visiting Tigers to a 63-55 win Friday in Joliet.

West led throughout the game, but the Steelmen made a charge in the third quarter, cutting the score to 40-34 on a basket by Jailen Jones. Dunnigan responded immediately, scoring eight consecutive points. His steal and slam closed the quarter with the Tigers ahead 47-34.

“Morris is just a special player,” Yaklich said. “He understands game pressure and momentum swings.

Dunnigan began his high school career as a Steelman, back when the Joliet programs were combined. He was a star player on the varsity as a freshman, leading Joliet to the supersectional at Redbird Arena in Bloomington—just one game from the state tournament in Peoria.

“Earlier this week I mentioned that was our goal,” Yaklich said. “To win the sectional and get back to Redbird. [Dunnigan’s] eyes lit up when I said that.”

The Tigers have the fourth seed in the sectional, so there is hope that Dunnigan, the best Joliet basketball player since Roger Powell Jr. in 2000, could lead West on a deep playoff run.

“I just want to play at Redbird again,” Dunnigan said. “I told [the rest of the team] about it earlier this week. I told them it was a lovely feeling.”

Defense and ball control are the Tigers calling card this season, and both were on display in the first half. Central struggled to score, managing just four field goals in the first quarter and six in the second.

Ryan Modiest scored 15 points and 6-7 Andre Hardy added six points, six rebounds and three blocks for the Tigers (15-6, 8-3 SouthWest Suburban Blue).

“Andre Hardy played his best game of the year for us,” Yaklich said. “He really held the fort down in the paint.”

Senior Jalen Heath led the Steelmen (12-11, 7-4) with 14 points and Edward McElrath added 12.

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