PEORIA, Ill. – Simeon didn’t expect to be handed the Class 4A state title Friday because it was favored to win the trophy later on in the weekend.
Like Derrick Rose and those before them, these Simeon players understood they would have to earn their state title.
On Friday in the Class 4A state semifinals, they were challenged and met that challenge.
After squandering a 15-point lead and falling behind in the second half, Simeon stepped up when it mattered most and defeated Glenbard East 56-53 to advance to Saturday’s state championship game.
“It was a great semifinal game, probably one of the best I’ve been involved in since I’ve been coming down,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “These guys up here and the ones in the locker room their desire to win is huge. We could have folded when they went up. But nobody got rattled, nobody got out of our offense.
“We just did everything the Simeon way and we controlled the game and got the lead back.”
Simeon (29-2), the state’s top-ranked team, looked as if might put away Glenbard East (27-4) in the opening quarter. The Wolverines scored the game’s first 15 points, and it wasn’t until Kevin Priebe made a 3-pointer at 2:47 of the first quarter did the Rams get on the board.
It wouldn’t be the last of the 3-pointers by Glenbard East either. With Glenbard East trailing by so much so early and Simeon playing in a 2-3 zone, the Rams needed the 3-pointer and were given opportunities to shoot them.
Glenbard East sank five 3-pointers in the first half and cut Simeon’s lead to five points at half. East hit seven more in the second half.
“From day one, we’ve really talked about composure,” Glenbard East coach Scott Miller said. “That’s what we hung our hat on all year. It’s not over until it’s over. We just told them to keep fighting, keep playing.”
Glenbard East kept that up in the second half, too. The Rams tied the game 36-36 and then took their first lead of the game when Johnny Hill’s layup at 7:53 of the fourth quarter put them up 38-36, and he later put them up again at 41-40 at 5:27.
With its season on the line, Simeon didn’t flinch, and senior Rashawn McElrath was the one to emerge for the Wolverines. He scored to give Simeon the lead back at 42-40 and then scored again to give it a 44-41 lead.
Simeon wouldn’t trail again.
McElrath would do his part at the free-throw line, too. He sank all seven of his attempts and finished the game with a team-high 17 points.
“I’ve been waiting my turn,” McElrath said. “Every year we have 15 new players. It don’t matter who gets to shine. I just want to win.”
Hill, an Illinois State recruit, was the force behind Glenbard East’s comeback and its near win. He finished with 22 points on 7 of 11 shooting. He also hit three 3-pointers and grabbed five rebounds.
Jabari Parker (16 points) and Darien Walker (12 points) contributed for Simeon.
Priebe (11 points), Zach Miller (10 assists) and Dante Bailey (nine points) contributed for Glenbard East.