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Malachi Nix relished the chance to make a statement on Sunday.
“This was playing in Chicago, in a big game against a very good and athletic team, and we wanted to come out and show what we could do,” Nix said.
The Niles North senior point guard put on a show by scoring 18 of his career-high 44 points in the fourth quarter in leading the No. 13 Vikings to a scintillating 84-80 victory over Morton in the Conference Challenge Classic at Gordon Tech.
Nix converted a stunning 20 of 21 free throws. He also nailed two three-pointers among his 12 field goals, and registered five assists and four steals as the Vikings (24-3) tied a school-mark with the for victories in a season.
Nix and senior guard BJ Beckford proved the difference for the Vikings, who trailed 57-54 to start the fourth quarter. Nix started the comeback on the opening possession of the quarter, converting a three-point play from an offensive rebound.
His play ignited a 13-4 run that gave the Vikings a crucial fourth-quarter advantage over the Mustangs (16-6).
“He’s tough,” junior Morton guard Greg Carter said. “He’s fast and he’s tough to guard.”
Nix punctuated the fourth-quarter burst with a three-pointer and two free throws that pushed the Vikings’ lead to 67-61.
“I was able to go out there and make plays, use my speed to get to the basket,” Nix said. “I hit some [perimeter] shots early and that forced them get on me and after that I used my speed and quickness to get to the basket.
“Mostly I was just feeling it out there today.
Beckford converted five three-pointers in scoring 20 points for the Vikings. His three-pointer from the left wing provided some valuable breathing space — a four-point Vikings’ lead at 71-67 after Carter directed Morton’s comeback.
Carter hit four three-pointers in scoring 19 of his 24 points in the second half. His drive and basket pulled the Mustangs within 68-67 with just over three minutes to play. He missed the potential game-tying free throw and Beckford drilled a three-pointer.
Nix shot 11-for-11 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, helping nullifying every Morton run. His speed and quickness helped Niles North neutralize Morton’s superior size. The brothers, Waller Perez (25 points, nine rebounds) and Weisner Perez (11 points, 10 rebounds), controlled the interior for the Mustangs.
“We just knew we could not let them get set in the paint, that we had to disrupt them or they’d just pound it inside against us,” Nix said.
“We just had too many communication problems out there trying to guard them,” Carter said. “We got caught on backscreens.”