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After Wednesday’s game, Young senior Jahlil Okafor convinced everyone that a 72-64 win over Simeon in a Class 4A Marist Sectional semifinal was no big deal.
The Dolphins played the part when the buzzer went off, as well. They didn’t toss the ball in the air or rush the court in celebration. Young expected to win, but make no mistake — Wednesday was the end of an era.
The Wolverines had not lost a playoff game since March 2009, winning four consecutive state titles. Only Peoria Manual’s run from 1994 to 1997 matches the feat.
Simeon had eliminated Okafor and Young from the playoffs the past two seasons
“Simeon is considered our nemesis,” Okafor said. “The last couple years we got too hyped about this game.”
The Wolverines (22-5) shocked Young (25-5) at the start by focusing on shutting down sharpshooting senior Miles Reynolds with a trick defense. That and some hot shooting (16-for-27) helped Simeon take a 38-32 halftime lead.
“I’m not going to lie, I had no idea how to handle it,” Reynolds said. “At one point I just tried to stay out of the way and make it 4-on-4.”
With Reynolds tied up and a double-team on Okafor whenever he touched the ball, the Dolphins’ offense fell to Erwin Henry (16 points) and sophomore Rodney Herenton (career-high 16 points). Okafor played the part of point guard, dishing off four assists in the first half.
“I got Erwin [Henry] a couple of easy passes,” Okafor said. “I was just trying to be patient. [Herenton] really stepped up. He played phenomenal all game.”
Simeon went cold in the fourth quarter, not scoring for a stretch of almost three minutes. At the same time, Okafor and senior forward Paul White heated up.
White found Okafor for an alley-oop dunk with 3:18 to play. It put Young ahead 66-60 and seemed to take the steam out of Simeon’s upset attempt.
“We knew [Simeon] couldn’t keep shooting like that,” Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said. “At the end of the day the veterans took control. That’s the way we have played all year. Our guys are mentally strong.”
Okafor finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks and four assists. He shot 6-for-16. White added 16 points and Reynolds scored eight and grabbed six rebounds.
Simeon junior Ed Morrow, at just 6-6, defended the 6-10 Okafor valiantly and was a force on offense with 18 points. But Morrow’s defensive effort led to too many fouls, and he exited the game with his fifth with 3:42 to play.
Junior DJ Williams scored 22 for the Wolverines. The Illinois recruit was very active throughout the game, showing another sign that he may be ready to become Simeon’s next star.
“It was something to build on,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “You never want to lose.
“Okafor and Cliff Alexander get all the hype, but Ed Morrow is a monster.”
Young will play St. Rita for the sectional championship on Friday at Marist.