PONTIAC, Ill. -- Simeon may still stand as the No. 1 team in the country, but it hasn’t exactly been an easy feat.
Seven days after being pushed to the brink by Whitney Young, the top-ranked Wolverines survived an even fiercer battle against Peoria Manual before a sold-out crowd in the Pontiac holiday tournament semifinals on Friday afternoon.
Simeon was only able to breathe easy when time expired on Friday. The Wolverines survived with a 48-47 win over the Rams after Manual missed one game-tying attempt underneath the rim and had another opportunity broken up by Simeon’s Steve Taylor in the final seconds.
“That’s a great ball club,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “I give them 100 percent of the credit.”
Simeon (11-0) will face No. 3 Curie (11-0) in the Pontiac championship at 9 p.m. on Friday. It’s the first time two Chicago teams will meet for the title.
Manual (9-2), one of the state’s most storied programs, proved from the start Friday it wasn’t going to be intimidated by Simeon. The Rams built an 11-10 after one quarter and hung with Simeon the rest of the way.
Manual’s last lead came late in the third quarter when AJ Riley put the Rams ahead 34-32 with a bucket. Simeon came back to the tie the game, and it was knotted at 36 to start the fourth quarter.
The Wolverines appeared as if they may run away with the game in the early goings of the fourth quarter. They went on a 10-2 run and were up 46-38 midway through the quarter. Four different Simeon players scored in the run.
Manual wasn’t done, though. The Rams went on their own 7-0 run, which finished with a 3-pointer by Jeff White with 46 seconds remaining. It would be the game’s final basket.
“We didn’t execute,” Smith said of the game’s final minutes. “Luckily, we had built a big enough lead.”
Simeon junior Jabari Parker had game-highs of 21 points and 12 rebounds. Kendall Pollard (nine points), Kendrick Nunn (six points, three steals), Taylor (six points) and Jaylon Tate (six points, two steals) contributed for the Wolverines.
White, a Loyola recruit, led Manual with 17 points.
In the other semifinal, Curie defeated No. 8 Warren 77-68 in double overtime. It’s the first time Curie has advanced to the title game in 14 years.
In the second overtime, Curie’s Malcolm Hill-Bey scored eight points, which included sinking 6-of-6 free throws. The Condors were 10-of-14 from the line in the final overtime. They were 19-of-33 at the rest of the game.
“I just wanted to be big for my team,” said Hill-Bey, who had 10 points and five assists. “My team said, ‘Make your free throws.’ I said, ‘Okay, I got you.’ I just made my free throws, and we came out with the victory.”
Darius Paul led Warren with 15 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks.
Warren’s JoVaughn sent the game into the first overtime with a 3-pointer with six seconds left. Warren’s Jon Geske put into a second overtime with a layup in the final seconds of the first overtime.