- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Simeon prefers to have Jabari Parker, the nation’s No. 1 junior, on the floor, but the Wolverines proved Friday they’re still pretty good without him.
While Parker sat the bench for 11 minutes, 34 seconds in the first half with two fouls, Simeon extended what was a one-point lead to double digits.
It would be an advantage No. 1 Simeon would never relinquish as the Wolverines held on for a 53-49 win over No. 3 Curie at Chicago State to capture their first city championship since 2007. It was the second time Simeon defeated Curie this season.
“This is real big for us,” said Simeon senior Jaleni Neely, who had nine points. “We haven’t won a city title since Derrick Rose has been here. It’s not something we would settle for less. We wanted to win city, and we knew we could get it done.”
They even knew it with Parker on the bench. While most coaches would be worried about having their star player on the bench for such a long period, Simeon coach Robert Smith said his expectations never changed.
“I’m never concerned about us losing,” said Smith, whose team improved to 25-1. “Every time we step out here we expect to win. No matter who’s out here playing, what the foul situation is. That’s the difference in our team and everyone else’s. I think no matter who’s here, who’s hurt, we expect to win every time we step out here.”
Simeon proved him right again on Friday. With Parker on the bench, other Simeon players took it upon themselves to lift the load. During that run, Steve Taylor contributed two points, three rebounds, two steals and one block while Kendrick Nunn scored six points. Defensively, Simeon held Curie to three points in the quarter.
“When Jabari went down, I just had to say I got to step up and be a senior and be a leader and carry my team on my back,” Taylor said. “That’s basically what was going through my mind. We didn’t miss a beat. That’s the good thing about our team, once Jabari goes down, we still be rolling.”
Taylor’s offense was helpful, but his defense was also essential against Curie’s 6-9 sophomore center Cliff Alexander. He limited Alexander to four points.
Taylor finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and one block. Nunn had 15 points.
Parker returned to the court in the third quarter and still left his mark, scoring nine of his 11 points in the second half.
Curie (24-2) was able to make it interesting down the stretch. After trailing by as many as 18 points in the third quarter, the Condors pulled within single digits with under a minute left and even trimmed the lead to 47-44 with 12 seconds remaining when Devin Foster banked in 3-pointer while falling to the ground.
Foster, who scored nine of his game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter, hoped Curie would see Simeon again come the state playoffs.
“Defense wins games,” Foster said. “We got to stop the ball, but we should have won the game. We’re going to get them the next time when we play them for state.”