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Jahlil Okafor didn’t need to score many points to be the best player on the court Tuesday at Chicago State.
The Young senior had only one basket in the first quarter, but the 6-10 forward had five assists as the Dolphins jumped out to a commanding 19-3 lead they never surrendered.
Okafor finished with 12 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists to carry No. 1-ranked Young to the 58-32 win over Loyola in the Class 4A supersectional.
The Dolphins (27-5) earned their first trip to Peoria since 2010 when they took second place. Young last won the state title in 2009.
“He’s the best player in the country,” Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said. “Even if he’s not scoring, he finds ways to beat you.”
Loyola coach Tom Livatino said his team’s game plan was sound. The No. 7-ranked Ramblers (25-6) crowded Okafor in the post and forced the Dolphins to look elsewhere for offense.
The Dolphins did.
Seniors Erwin Henry, Miles Reynolds and Paul White and sophomore guard Rodney Herenton, Jr., all scored for Young in the first quarter. Okafor had four assists before his first basket with 3 minutes, 46 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
“He’s unbelievable,” Loyola senior guard Kevin Kucera said of Okafor, who is signed to play at Duke. “We focused on him, and there was nothing wrong with our game plan. He deserves to be the No. 1 player in the country.”
Loyola got good looks from the perimeter early, but the shots weren’t going in the Ramblers. They went 1-for-8 on three-pointers in the first quarter and trailed 19-3, the lone basket coming on junior forward Griffin Boehm’s 3 from the top of the key.
The Ramblers finished 2-for-14 on 3s for the half and went into intermission down 32-12.
“I didn’t mind what we did defensively,” Livatino said. “The tale of the first half was our inability to execute on offense. We were not crisp, not sharp and the shots weren’t falling.”
With Young up 44-21 after three, Okafor started the fourth with a layup and dunk. The Dolphins’ first four baskets of the quarter were either layups or dunks.
Okafor exited the game with at the 2:44 mark of the fourth. Loyola’s three senior captains — James Clarke, Jack Morrissey and Kucera — also ended their night at that time.
Morrissey led Loyola with 11 points, while Clarke added nine points. White matched Okafor with 12 points.
“This game doesn’t characterize who we are,” Kucera said. “We had a great season, and it was a lot of fun.”
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