By Steve Robinson | January 2, 2021 - 1:24 pm

On what should have been semifinal day of the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament, also known to folks in the area as The Classic, Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus should have been bustling with activity: Players and coaches getting ready for or taking part in contests to get one step closer to possibly getting to a championship; Bleachers and the corridors outside the area teaming with fans; Special Olympics basketball players, coaches, and family members at the lower level basketball courts gearing up for another annual Ron Knisley Memorial Tournament.

But no thanks to a pandemic we have all been experiencing since March, the main gym, named in honor of former IWU head men’s basketball coach, Dennie Bridges, although lit, was silent. The practice courts just outside the big gym was silent and dark, one of the courts was even being used to store exercise equipment.

But this year, although the pandemic nixed the basketball action we have all come to anticipate and be thrilled by, if you went to one of the storage areas near the parking lot adjacent to the facility, there was plenty of activity on what would have been the event’s third day. That was because on Tuesday, Dec. 29, in what would have been the midst of the 42nd annual event, Holiday Tournament organizers held a canned food drive to benefit Midwest Food Bank. Basketball fans and residents are encouraged to stop by and bring canned goods and non-perishable food items for donation.

And from the look of the utility room Tournament organizers used for storage during the five-hour afternoon event, the public, including some teams who would normally find themselves on the hardwood that day, came through with plenty of donations. I don’t have a final total for you here, but I will get one and update you in a future column.

“It’s been a steady stream of cars all day,” explained Chris Highland, a member of the tournament’s organizing committee who coordinated the food drive. The food drive was born out of a suggestion one of its board members, Kraig Komnick, proposed the idea for the event to directors of the Midwest Food Bank.

By the time I got to the event, about 90 minutes into it, officials, some teams, and volunteers who would normally spend all or part of the tournament either keeping game scorebooks or doing public address announcing work had come by with donations to, what looked to me, to be a fairly full room to benefit others. “We’ve seen a lot of familiar faces come through and drop off donations,” explained Mike Wilkinson, a volunteer who serves as finance chair for the Tournament.

In August, when it was clear the pandemic was going to prevent The Classic from taking place, Wilkinson said, “When it was clear we weren’t going to have a basketball tournament, Chris reached out to some of us who have been active in helping and asked what we thought about doing something to benefit someone.

From there, the idea came for a canned food drive.” A few meetings in November followed, Wilkinson said. At that point, Wilkinson approached the other schools which host other games within the tournament to also collect canned goods. Those schools were Normal Community High School, Normal Community West High School, and Bloomington High School. He said a subcommittee of seven Tournament Committee members helped set up the event, which included organizing and doing publicity to get the word out about the one-day drive. He said he was aware to expect deliveries from Normal Community High School and Bloomington Central Catholic High School during the drive that day, so the kids didn’t want to be left out of action, even if that action wasn’t on the court.

I wasn’t able to catch up with either Unit 5-based school’s teams at this event. But being local “and wanting to do something with the girls” were motivating factors for Bloomington Central Catholic High School to join the Normal schools in donating to the cause explain Debbie Coffman, head girls’ basketball coach at BCC. Lady Saints team members always try to do a service project during the season, but COVID-19 has prevented that from being done, so donating to the Food Bank via the Tournament was the next best thing, Coffman said.

“The kids and their parents collected all their food on a Friday night and we were able to donate it today,” Coffman said, adding their donations filled an SUV. Coffman’s last two years at The Classic have been memorable, having won the championship two years ago and finishing fifth last year.

I asked Wilkinson if seeking donations for Midwest Food Bank could become a regular feature of the Tournament in the future. “It probably will in some form or fashion,” he said. “We have talked about doing something.” He said “something” in past years led to the Ron Knisley Special Olympics Tournament and the annual silent auction, both of which have become integral components of the larger tourney itself. Discussions concerning the future of the food drive are in early stages, Wilkinson explained.

Wilkinson, when he isn’t working or doing volunteer work for the Tournament, said he also gives of his time to volunteer at the food bank, as well.

Tournament organizers have adapted and added items to the roster of side events during the tournament. Here’s hoping the food drive soon finds itself among those extra features in the future, as it will prove beneficial, not just to those folks Midwest Food Bank serves but to those players, coaches, and fans who give of themselves by donating to it.

NORMAL – University High School’s boys’ basketball team, seeded 7th when the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Classic tournament started the day after Christmas finished in 7th place on the third day of the tourney with a 66-32 victory over Machesney Park Harlem on Dec. 28 in a game played at Normal Community West High School.

U-High extended their record to 8-5 following the win, which included owning leads of 14-4 after one quarter and 26-8 at the half. The Pioneers, behind lead scorer junior forward Angelo Bernal’s 15 points on the night, extended that lead to 49-21 by the end of the third quarter. U-High sank 11 three-pointers during the contest. Bernal was joined in double-figures by senior guard Drew Wollenschlager’s 13 points and 11 from sophomore guard D. J. Starr. This game was the second of two Dec. 28 starting with the contest against Peoria High.

Pioneers Force Overtime Against Peoria High: U-High found themselves facing Machesney Park Harlem after losing in overtime to Peoria High at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus, falling to the Lions, 65-58. After trailing at the end of the first quarter, 15-14, and leading at halftime, 24-21, The Pioneers found themselves in charge for most of the third quarter until a basket by Lions sophomore guard Lerone Allen tied the game at 33-all at the 4:01 mark. From there, a trio of unanswered threes – two from Allen and one from senior guard Christopher Williams – closed out the third quarter putting the Lions in front, 42-33.

U-High started the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run which started with a trey from senior guard Logan Christensen, reducing Peoria’s lead to 46-40. A free throw by senior forward Joe Brown and a trey by Christensen helped U-High come within two, 46-44, and prompted Peoria High head coach Dan Ruffin to call timeout with 3:35 left.

A trey by sophomore guard Nate Moore with three minutes left and a free throw from junior center Dionysius Hogan pushed the Lions in front, 50-46, prompting U-High to call time with 1:37 left. Coming out of the timeout, Wollenschlager hit a trey to help the Pioneers pull within one, 50-49, with 1:07 remaining in regulation. Coming out of the timeout, Hogan’s jumper with 59 seconds left, put the Lions up, 52-49. Christensen scored a game-tying three with 39.2 seconds left, forcing the game into a 52-all overtime.

The Pioneers found themselves in chase mode throughout the extra stanza, only coming as close as two points behind twice, 56-54 on a breakaway basket by senior guard Alex Wood and 58-56, thanks to a deuce by Christensen. After Christensen’s bucket, U-High called a timeout, but coming back into play, the overtime belonged to Peoria, which saw Hogan hit a deuce and a free throw followed by Lions sophomore guard Staishaun Kelley making 3-of-4 free throws after being fouled twice, putting the Lions’ victory within reach.

Pioneers Fail To Overcome Rock Island’s 4th Quarter Scoring Run: The Pioneers managed to maintain a basket-for-basket ratio for most of three quarters against second seed Rock Island in U-High’s second game of the tourney Dec. 27 – that is until the fourth quarter.

Prior to the fourth quarter, Pioneers trailed the Rocks 13-11 after one quarter, led at the half, 27-22, and found themselves behind at the end of the third quarter, 35-32. Treys by Wollenschlager and Christensen, and senior guard Brandon Merritt helped the Pioneers keep pace with their opponents. But after Pioneers junior forward Angelo Bernal opened the last quarter with a deuce to pull within one of Rock Island, 35-34 with 7:48 left in the contest, two back-to-back unanswered baskets for the Rocks by senior forward Solomon Gustafson lit the fuse on a 16-0 scoring surge which didn’t end until Wollenschlager’s next basket with 51.8 seconds remaining, cutting Rock Island’s lead, 51-36.

Senior guard Alijah Walker-Lee scored the Rocks’ final points which were quickly countered at the final buzzer for U-High with a trey by senior guard Caden Overton. But that loss sent the Pioneers attempting to claim 5th place in the tournament with the Peoria Lions as their next opponent. Against Rock Island, senior guard Alex Wood was U-High’s lone player in double figures with 11 points. Rock Island’s scoring leaders were junior guard Colton Sigel and senior forward Taurean Holtam who scored 13 points each, and 11 from Gustafson.

Pioneers Need Overtime To Win Opening Game Against Chicago Kenwood: The Pioneers trailed Chicago Kenwood during their opening round contest Dec. 26 but managed to corral the Broncos midway through the third quarter, or so they thought. After trailing 12-9 after one quarter and 27-24 at the half. U-High would catch and surpass the Broncos going into the fourth quarter leading, 42-37. But in that final quarter, U-High would find themselves behind again by as much as six, 51-45, on a trey from Kenwood junior guard Martin Kenall. From there, a pair of deuces from Pioneers sophomore forward Kenall Stork helped tie the game, the last of the two shots coming with 50 seconds in regulation.

The Pioneers started the overtime by going on a 6-0 run highlighted by two deuces from Wood and a deuce between those from junior guard Brandon Merritt, pushing U-High in front, 57-51. From there, both sides’ defenses tightened but Kenwood fouls would send Stork to the free throw line twice and Merritt once for a combined 4-for-6 putting the game out of reach for the Broncos and sending the Pioneers on to the second round against second seed Rock Island.

“We had a five point lead going into the fourth quarter but we came out a little sloppy in that quarter and Kenwood took the lead and ran it up by 6 and our guys just stayed together, executed, fought for defensive stops, and possession by possession, we fought for wins on offense and defense and ended up getting right back in the game,” U-High head coach Andrew McDowell explained afterward.

BLOOMINGTON – How some teams should be seeded in tournaments can be tricky to figure out because tournament organizers are working with team schedules and basing their seeding on results of completed games. Seeding a team into a specific slot is not a guarantee that team will successfully maneuver through the tournament to show the predictions made before the start of the tournament were correct.

Normal Community High School’s boys’ basketball team, selected top seed at the 40th annual State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament, known also as The Classic, unfortunately for Ironmen faithful, proved that seeding doesn’t always equal how that team is destined to finish. Top seeded NCHS finished 5th in the Large School Boys Bracket after beating 6th seed Peoria High, 51-44, Saturday at a contest played at Normal Community West High School.

Senior guard Jimmy Gillispie scored 16 points on the night followed in double-figures for NCHS by sophomore forward Zachary Cleveland’s 13. Sophomore guards Lerone Allen and Nate Moore were high scorers for the Lions, each pocketing 11 points in the contest. The victory improved NCHS’ record to 10-2 on the season.

Ironmen Beats Machesney Park In Third Game, 66-55: NCHS jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead from the opening tip with a deuce by senior guard Jimmy Gillispie and a deuce by sophomore guard Trey Redd. Huskies senior forward Jared Jacobsen countered with a trey of his own to cut the Ironmen’s lead to 5-3 en route to a 11-9 lead going into the second quarter. It would prove to be a sign of how the Ironmen would function, with aid from a pair of technical fouls called against Machesney Park in their 66-55 victory.

Foul trouble for the Huskies in the second quarter, including a technical foul called against the Huskies helped NCHS add a 6-for-10 tally and put NCHS up, 28-17, with 3:09 left until halftime. NCHS owned a 32-25 halftime lead.

A trey by senior guard Mitchell Sauder started third quarter scoring for NCHS, but Machesney Park countered with two treys from junior guard Trenton Tucker. In addition, Tucker, Jacobsen, and sophomore forward Lathan Lewis combining to go 6-for-6 at the free throw line toward the end of the quarter helped the Huskies narrow NCHS’ lead going into the fourth quarter, 49-40.

A trey from senior forward Griffin McCluskey along with Gillespie, Redd, Sauder, and Cleveland each visiting the free throw line for a combined 6-for-8 in the final stanza helped put the game out of reach for the Huskies. Those same three players were the only Ironmen in double figures, with Redd and McCluskey scoring 13 points each and Gillespie pocketing 12. Tucker was high scorer for the Huskies with 12 points followed by Jacobsen and junior forward Dominic McCarren’s 10.

As a result of the win, however, the Ironmen played their last game of the tournament at Normal Community West High School where they took on Big 12 Conference foe Peoria High.

Loss To Metamora, 37-36, Sends NCHS To Loser’s Bracket: NCHS found themselves either chasing or in a tie against 8th seed Metamora when the two teams met Dec. 27 at Shirk Center. NCHS found itself behind early, 9-4 by the end of the first quarter, courtesy of a pair of treys by Metamora freshman guard Ethan Kizer and one by sophomore guard Zach Schroeder. Sophomore guard Trey Redd provided NCHS’ only scoring in the first quarter. The Ironmen trailed throughout the second quarter, but a trey from McCluskey and a buzzer-beating basket by Cleveland helped NCHS cut the Redbirds’ lead at the half down to three, 17-14.

NCHS caught up to Metamora by the end of the third quarter, 30-all, thanks to a pair of deuces from Redd and a couple of Cleveland deuces. Three-pointers by senior guard Gabe Mason and senior guard Landon Ivins contributed to the tie score. After back-to-back deuces by Gillispie to start the fourth quarter, NCHS jumped out to a 34-30 lead with 5:27 remaining.

Two free throws by Kizer and a layup by Schroeder for the Redbirds went unanswered by NCHS, tying the game at 34 with just over two minutes left. A pair of free throws by Gillespie with 1:58 left gave NCHS a 36-34 lead. But that was short-lived due to a trey by Ivins with 1:41 remaining, putting Metamora up 37-36 prompting NCHS head coach Dave Witzig to call timeout.

Following the timeout, each side called a timeout inside the game’s remaining minute, Metamora’s timeout coming with 1.7 seconds remaining. Coming out of that timeout, and NCHS having possession, senior guard Mitchell Sauder threw the ball inbounds to Redd who took a few steps, shooting the ball toward the basket, only to see it fall short as the final buzzer sounded with Metamora winning, 37-36. Gillespie was the lone Ironmen in double-figures with 14 points. Redd and Cleveland each contributed 8 points for NCHS. Mason and Landon were high scorers for Metamora, pocketing 12 and 10 points, respectfully.

Ironmen head coach Dave Witzig admitted after this contest he felt his team was “fortunate to only be down by three at halftime because Metamora really outplayed us in the first half. Our press got us back in the game a little bit, but Metamora, from the opening tip, was ready to play and we kind of felt like we were not ready to play. We were a little slow out of the gate and so we were battling the whole time.

“Their guys made a nice comeback and Ivins hit a big three to give Metamora the lead and their shooters were knocking out shots when they were open,” Witzig added. He labeled the contest “a good lesson for us because our guys have to be ready to play a 32-minute game.”

Ironmen Outpace North Chicago In First Round, 54-45: The Ironmen’s opening round win against North Chicago, 54-45 at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center put NCHS on the right path with a 54-42 victory. NCHS led the contest throughout lead 12-9 after one quarter, 24-16 at the half, and 42-28 after three quarters. Witzig said afterward the combination of his team coming fresh off celebrating Christmas combined with playing against North Chicago’s run-and-gun playing style presented a challenge for his team in the opening round. Redd led the Ironmen scoring with 19 points, followed by 13 from Cleveland and 10 from McCluskey. Junior guard Steven Rodriguez was the Warhawks’ lone scorer in double-figures with 19 points.

By Steve Robinson | December 31, 2017 - 10:11 pm

BasketballBLOOMINGTON – Like every team in the Small School Boys’ Bracket at the 39th annual State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament, El Paso Gridley head coach Nathaniel Meiss’ boys’ team was looking for a title. But being seeded 8th proved a double-edge sword for the Titans: Lose your first game and immediately go into the loser’s bracket, or win your first game and find yourself facing top seed Winnebago in the second round. The Titans found themselves with the latter prospect, and finished the tourney in 7th place as a result.

Champaign St. Thomas More Hands EPG An Opening Loss: El Paso Gridley’s boys’ basketball team extended their winning streak to seven games after winning their opening contest against Champaign St. Thomas More to open the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament Dec. 27 at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University ’s campus. The Titans did that staying in front of the Sabres to earn a 63-55 victory. The victory marked EPG’s seventh straight victory moving their overall record to 9-1.

After a 4-4 tie to open the game, the Titans broke the game open thanks to one bucket from senior guard Hub Halvorsen and a pair of deuces from senior guard Aaron Steiner for a 10-6 advantage. The Titans continued the surge with Halvorsen adding another basket, upping the lead to 12-7 before a three-point play by St. Thomas More’s Alec Blomberg cut the score to 12-10. Halversen added one more basket to close out the scoring for the quarter for the Titans handing them a 14-10 lead.

Sophomore forward Jack Weber opened the second quarter with a bucket to extend the Titans’ lead, 16-10, but St. Thomas More replied thanks to junior Riley Morris’ deuce, 16-12. Weber made his team’s next basket, putting the Titans up, 18-12. Blomberg responded with a deuce for the Sabres, cutting EPG’s lead to four, 18-14. It was followed by a Halvorsen deuce putting EPG up, 20-14. A free throw by a fouled Bryson Lee and a jumper by junior Spencer Neitzel pulled the Sabres within three, 20-17. the quarter ended on a pair of unanswered Sabres treys, cutting EPG’s lead going into halftime, 28-24.

A deuce by Morris pulled the Sabres within two, 28-26, at the 7:33 mark in the third quarter, but EPG was able to get a four point lead thanks to a basket followed by two free throws by junior guard Teron Fairchild pushing the Titans’ lead to 32-28. from there, Weber hit three straight unanswered deuces which were answered by a trey from the Sabres’ Noah Herr. That gave EPG a 38-31 lead. Fairchild and Morris exchanged deuces giving EPG a 40-33 lead and Titans forward Aaron Steiner’s deuce put EPG up, 42-33 at the 1:52 mark in the quarter. Junior Dominic Magrini hit a jumper and two free throws that followed which nudged St. Thomas More within six, 42-36, to start the fourth quarter.

After Fairchild and Halvorson opened the last quarter with back-to-back unanswered deuces pushing EPG up, 46-36, St. Thomas More went on a 9-0 run with a pair of threes by Morris being featured. That reduced EPG’s lead to five, 46-41 with 4:48 left in the contest. Back-to-back unanswered deuces by Fairchild and Weber gave EPG a 50-44 lead which the Sabres reduced to four, 50-46, on a Blomberg deuce at the 3:37 mark, prompting the Sabres bench to call for a timeout.

After that, EPG outscored the Sabres 7-2 on buckets by Steiner, Weber, and Fairchild, giving EPG a 57-48 lead which prompted EPG to call a timeout with 1:43 left. Once out of that time out, Sabres fouls put Fairchild at the line twice and Weber and Smith once each sinking a combined 6-for-7 to close out the contest.

Halvorsen led EPG with 18 points followed in double-digits by 16 from Fairchild and 15 from Weber. Blomberg proved a one-man scoring machine in a losing cause for the Sabres sinking 21.

EPG head coach Nathaniel Meiss said he felt his team handled the pressure St. Thomas More brought during the contest well and that was despite his team having been off since Dec. 19. “The Sabres were scrappy but I’m pleased with how we finished the job. The contest began at 10:30a.m. On the tourney’s first day and the Titans had not practiced for nearly two weeks, partly because of the Christmas holiday. They recently practiced the day after Christmas as a result. “I knew it was going to be tricky,” Weiss said.

“We did a pretty good job on their big guys,” Sabres head coach Matt Kelley said. “They did a good job at the rim but we didn’t do a very good job stopping their drives. We shot a little better the second half. But we made a run but couldn’t really get over the hump. EPG answered every run we had and that’s something we have to get better at.”

State Farm Holiday ClassicTop Seed Winnebago Drops Titans In Second Round: But winning that first round contest put the Titans immediately in line to square off with the bracket’s top seed, Winnebago, in their second round contest at Shirk Center . EPG outscored Winnebago in the first and third quarters, but the Indians outpaced the contest in the second and last quarters. EPG led 19-14 after one quarter, trailed at the half, 33-30, before outscoring the Indians in the third quarter to take a 48-46 lead going into the last quarter. But the Titans could only account for 9 points in that last quarter while Winnebago scored 15 leading to the final score.

Halvorsen’s 14 points followed by 12 from Fairchild led the charge for the Titans. Senior forward Ty Waller and senior center Andrew Morrissey each pocketed 18 points in the victory that sent the Titans toward a third game bracket which would potentially lead to finishing 5th in the tournament depending on the outcome.

Annawan Win Sends Titans To 7th Place Game: On Friday, day three of the tourney at Shirk Center , the Titans found themselves having to stay within range of the 5th seeded Annawan Braves, trailing by four, 17-13 after one quarter, but outpacing their opponent 11-10 in the second quarter to stay within three, 27-24, at the half. Winning would give the Titans a shot at 5th place. But after outrunning the Braves 14-8 in the third quarter to take a 38-35 lead, the Braves offense combined with a tight defense, outscored the Titans in the last stanza, 23-6 en route to a 58-44 win.

That loss sent the Titans into a fourth game where a win would mean 7th place against Rock Falls . Senior guard Owen Landwehr led the Braves’ scoring with 18 points, followed by 15 points from senior forward Ben Buresh and 11 from senior guard Brendon Shaw. Fairchild’s 11 points accompanied by 10 from senior guard Dylan Smith helped the Titans keep pace.

Titans Outpace Rock Falls For 7th To End Day 3: What turned out to be the Titans’ third and last day at The Classic turned out to be a two-game day, as, once the Braves closed out the Titans morning effort, Meiss’ troops prepared to compete for 7th place at IWU against 3rd seed Rock Falls in the afternoon. Jumping out to 10-7 first quarter lead helped EPG as both sides scored 14 points in the second quarter allowing the Titans to hold on to a 24-21 halftime lead. EPG outpaced Rock Falls by a 13-12 margin in the fourth quarter to lead by four, 37-33, but both sides scored 20 points apiece leading to EPG’s 57-53 victory.

Fairchild’s team-high 15 points led the charge for the Titans. He was followed in double figures by Halvorsen and Weber who each pocketed 11 points, and Steiner who scored 10.

By Steve Robinson | December 28, 2017 - 10:14 pm

BasketballBLOOMINGTON – For both the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams from Normal Community High School, the road to take a championship wasn’t easy, and their endings turned out to have differing results. The 5th seeded boys’ Ironmen cruised to a victory over second seed Chicago North Lawndale while the 5th seeded Lady Iron faced, chased, and lost to 2nd seed Morton.

NCHS Boys 58, Chicago North Lawndale 46: Head coach Dave Witzig’s boys’ team advanced to 12-2 following the victory Saturday, having outpaced 12th Springfield, 4th seed Rock Island, and top seed Wheaton Warrenville South to be able to square off against 2nd seed Chicago North Lawndale for the The Classic’s Large School Boys’ title. The Ironmen (12-2 following the championship game) sped out to a 21-5 first quarter advantage on the strength of threes each contributed by senior guard Trey Heffner, junior guard Blake Foster, and senior forward C. J. Christian. Senior guard London Stamps’ trey and a deuce by junior guard Demetrius Douglas were the only offense the Phoenix could muster in the opening quarter.

Chicago North Lawndale (10-2 after this game) seemed to find their collective footing in the second quarter on threes by senior guard David Forrest, junior guard Daquan Tucker, senior guard Rayjon Williams, and junior guard Isiah Thomas. Their efforts helped Chicago North Lawndale outscore NCHS 25-11 in the second quarter, but the Ironmen still led 32-30 at the half. A basket by junior guard Daylen Boddie and a pair of deuces by junior center C. J. Wilbourne helped NCHS keep their lead at halftime, 32-30.

Boddie led his team in scoring with 15 points. He was followed by Wilbourn’s 14 and 12 from Christian. Tucker was the lone player in double figures for the Rocks with 19 points.

A pair of treys from Boddie and one from Chicago North Lawndale junior guard Marquese Earskines help both sides keep pace, although the Ironmen led, 45-35, going into the fourth quarter.

NCHS’ defense held the Phoenix to just 10 points in the fourth quarter while the offense behind a pair of baskets each by Christian and Wilbourne led the charge to the finish.

Christian led the Ironmen’s charge with 14 points, followed by 12 from Wilbourne, and 10 from Boddie. Forrest was the sole player for the Phoenix in double-digits with 12.

Witzig said after the game that he forgot to caution his players after the first quarter that “this game wouldn’t be that easy.” He said he wished he had issued that caveat because Chicago North Lawndale “went on to play a great second quarter. They scored 25 points in the second quarter and that’s a lot for a high school game. Our defense really came through for us in the second half.”

Chicago North Lawndale head coach Lewis Thorpe said he didn’t believe there was any in particular about NCHS’ play in the first quarter that caused his team’s lack of scoring. During that quarter, he said, “We just weren’t playing good basketball. We just weren’t making shots.” He added the coaching staff will study game tape and start their next game with five players who show him “consistent energy.” He said he didn’t believe his players played with that ingredient during the contest.

Thorpe said he thought NCHS’ toughness “was the key to the game. They wanted it more than we did.”

State Farm Holiday ClassicMorton 61, NCHS Girls 56: A pair of treys – one from Morton sophomore guard Lindsay Dullard and one from junior guard Tenley Dowell started the Large School Girls Championship game for 2nd seed Morton against NCHS’ Lady Iron. Morton owned 19-11 lead going into the second quarter. That set the tone for the contest with NCHS (13-4) spending the bulk of the contest chasing the Lady Potters who increased their record to 14-1. To get to the championship, head coach Marcus Mann’s team beat 12th seed Geneseo in the opener, 4th seed Wheaton Warrenville South in the second round, and top seed Peoria Richwoods to get to the championship.

Morton (14-1) stretched their lead further with two treys by senior guard Kassidy Shurman while Lady Iron baskets by senior guards Caelyn Steffens and Summer Stoewer, junior forward Abby Feit, and senior forward Hannah Johnson tried to keep pace to try catching them. But at the half, the Lady Potters held command with a 38-23 lead.

A trey by Morton sophomore guard Lindsey Dullard gave added push to the Lady Potters efforts to in front in the third quarter, but baskets by Steffens, Feit, sophomore guard Maya Wong, and Stoewer help NCHS maintain a pace that gave Morton a 49-35 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Back-to-back baskets to open the fourth quarter for NCHS by Feit and a free throw by Steffens cut Morton’s lead to 49-40 with 5:49 left. from there, the pace of the last leg of the chase accelerated with baskets by sophomore guard Kylee Schneringer, Wong, and Steffens, capped by a Stoewer trey with 36.5 seconds left to allow NCHS to come within five, 58-53, before Lady Iron fouls sent senior guard Josi Becker and senior forward Caylie Jones to help Morton go a combined 3-for-4 on the line. Wong hit NCHS’ last shot of the night – a trey – for the eventual final score.

Dullard let Morton in scoring with 18 points, followed by Jones’ 13, Dowell’s 12, and Becker’s 10. Feit and Wong led NCHS’ charge scoring 18 and 11 points, respectfully.