Where does Simeon's 50-48 victory over Proviso East for the Class 4A championship rank among the most exciting and dramatic games in the history of the Illinois basketball tournament?
Surely, old-timers are pressed to recall two more athletic and quicker teams matched against each other in a state final. In the early going, it wasn't pretty with both teams playing out of control and trying to out-run and out-jump the other. By the fourth quarter, however, they got it right.
It can be argued that this was the best of Simeon coach Robert Smith's five state champions with Jabari ParkerSteve Taylor and more size, speed and depth than the Derrick RoseTim Flowers teams. But was it better than Bob Hambric's 1984 state champion with Tim BankstonBen Wilson?
As a game that kept you in your chair and away from the refrigerator for the entire second half, however, SimeonProviso East was an attention-getter, a page-turner full of suspense. How will the story end? Can Simeon rally? Can Proviso East hold them off? Who is Sterling Brown? Will they go into overtime?
It probably ranks among the top 10 games in state tournament history, certainly one of the best state finals ever. But it doesn't rank at the top of the list. With an assist to historian Pat Heston of Cahokia, Illinois, here is a list of the most entertaining and exciting and dramatic games dating to the 1940s:
1. Carver 53, Centralia 52, 1963 championship: Centralia was ranked No. 1. Carver was a five-time loser and unranked. Carver coach Larry Hawkins pulled 5-foot-7 sophomore Anthony Smedley off the bench in the closing seconds to bolster his defense. "Steal the ball," he told him. Smedley stole the ball from Centralia star Herb Williams and sank a game-winning shot from the corner.
2. East St. Louis Lincoln 59, Peoria Central 57, 3 OT, 1989 Class AA championship: Peoria Central was unbeaten. East St. Louis Lincoln was seeking its third state title in a row. Vincent Jackson's buzzer-beating shot from the top of the circle in the third overtime was the difference.
3. Morgan Park 45, West Aurora 44, 1976 Class AA championship: West Aurora led by seven points with two minutes to play but Morgan Park rallied behind Levi Cobb and Laird Smith. On a jump ball in front of West Aurora's basket with five seconds left, Cobb tipped to Smith, who made a 17-footer for the game-winner.
4. Mount Carmel, 46, Springfield Lanphier 44, 2 OT, 1985 Class AA championship: Led by Ed Horton, Illinois' Mr. Basketball, Lanphier had upset defending state champion Simeon in the quarterfinals and was favored to win its second state title in three years. But Mount Carmel, after blowing an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter, prevailed in the second overtime on sophomore Derrick Boyd's last-second basket.
5. West Rockford 61, Elgin 59, 1955 championship: Trailing by 13 points at halftime, West Rockford rallied in bizarre fashion, scoring six points in one second to turn the tide. Nolden Gentry scored and was fouled after the shot, converting two free throws. Rex Parker was fouled on the in-bounds play and made two free throws to tie. Later, Gentry tipped in John Wessels' missed shot with 14 seconds remaining to win the game.
6. Mendel 53, Quincy 52, 1982 Class AA semifinals: Unbeaten and top-ranked Quincy, led by Bruce Douglas and Dennis Douglas, was heavily favored to win its second state title in a row. But Mendel snapped the Blue Devils' 64-game winning streak 53-52 in the semifinals on Mike Hampton's game-winning basket. With time left for only a desperation play, coach Jerry Leggett called for an alley-oop pass that Douglas tipped off the rim. In the third place game, they executed the same play to beat Marshall.
7. Hebron 64, Quincy 59, OT, 1952 championship: It was the first televised game in tournament history. Jack Drees and Chick Hearn were the announcers. Hebron, with only 98 students, the smallest school ever to win the state title, edged Quincy and Bruce Brothers in overtime as 6-foot-10 Bill Schulz scored 24 points. The Judson twins, Paul and Phil scored 25 between them.
8. Centralia 35, Paris 33, 1942 championship: After being upset in the semifinals in 1941 by Morton of Cicero, Centralia and Dike Eddleman were determined to bounce back in 1942. But the Orphans trailed unbeaten Paris by 13 points with five minutes to play but rallied to win 35-33 as Eddleman scored 16 points and was the tournament's leading scorer.
9. Collinsville 66, Centralia 64, 1961 supersectional at Salem: In a duel between the two top-rated teams in the state, unbeaten Collinsville prevailed with Bogie Redmon and Fred Riddle. Bob Simpson stole the ball in the closing seconds to preserve the victory.
10. West Rockford 66, Galesburg 64, 2 OT, 1956 supersectional at Moline: Galesburg's Mike Owens scored 29 points but West Rockford, on its way to a second state title in a row, prevailed on Nolden Gentry's game-winning tip with two seconds to play. West Rockford was rated No. 1 in the state, Galesburg No. 3.
11. Lockport 42, St. Laurence 41, 1978 sectional semifinal at Downers Grove North: Lockport was unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the state. St. Laurence was unbeaten and ranked No. 2. Lockport won on Chuck Travis' basket. Jim Stack's last-second, half-court shot bounced off the rim. Lockport, led by Scott Parzych, went on to win the state title.
12. La Grange 83, Kankakee 74, 1953 sectional semifinal at Joliet: It was called the "Battle of the Decade," with unbeaten and top-ranked Kankakee and Harv Schmidt pitted against Ted Caiazza and third-rated and unbeaten La Grange. The 6-foot-6 Schmidt scored 37 points but Caiazza, a 6-foot-7, 235-pound junior, had 31 points and 14 rebounds as La Grange prevailed. Chuck Sedgwick scored 18, converting 16 of 19 free throws.
13. Decatur 73, Galesburg 72, OT, 1945 quarterfinals: Second-ranked Decatur, with Bob "Chick" Doster, fell behind Galesburg 22-11 and trailed by three with eight seconds to play when 6-foot-7 center George Riley intercepted a pass, was fouled and made a free throw. Doster's 10-footer at the buzzer forced overtime. Trailing by one with 14 seconds left, Doster made the game-winner. Decatur went on to beat top-rated Champaign for the state title.
14. Pekin 50, Cobden 45, 1964 championship: Cobden was the darling of the tournament. The senior class including six basketball players and 17 other students. Until then, nobody knew what an Appleknocker was. Before the game, team mascot Roger Burnett place five apples at center court and received a five-minute ovation. But Pekin, led by Dave Golden, broke out to a 15-8 lead in the first quarter and held on to win.
15. Galesburg 73, Benton 71, 1966 quarterfinals: Unbeaten and top-ranked Benton, led by Rich Yunkus and Jim Adkins, was the favorite. But Galesburg snapped the Rangers' 31-game winning streak on Dale Kelley's 30-footer with nine seconds to play. One of the state's most prolific scorers, he had 52 in a 72-52 rout of Rock Island in the sectional.
16. Proviso East 37, Champaign 36, 1969 semifinals: In a quarterfinal victory over Waukegan, Proviso East's 6-foot-9 center Jim Brewer suffered a severely sprained ankle. Bob Nicolette, the University of Illinois' varsity trainer, applied an ice massage, and Brewer was able to play on Saturday. He was fouled by Champaign star Clyde Turner and converted two free throws with two seconds to play to win the semifinal. In the Pirates' 57-51 victory over Peoria Spalding in the state final, he had 17 points and nine rebounds.
17. Quincy 107, East Aurora 96, 1972 Class AA semifinals: In the highest scoring game in tournament history, East Aurora's Greg Smith scored 44 points but Quincy had more punch with Larry Moore (32 points), who shot 13-of-37, Kelvin Gott (25 points, 12 rebounds) and Don Sorenson (20 points,
18. Madison 45, Providence 43, 1981 Class A quarterfinals: Second-rated Madison overcame Mr. Basketball Walter Downing's 27-point effort, edged top-ranked Providence and went on to win the state title with a 30-2 record. Coach Larry Graham's team was led by Morris Hughes, Pat Hatter, Charles Claggett and Mark Zarr. Hughes' driving layup with seven seconds left was the difference-maker.
19. Trenton Wesclin 83, Fairbury Prairie Central 78, 2 OT, 1990 Class A championship: Brent Brede, a 6-foot-4 senior, put on one of the most exciting performances in state-final history by scoring 36 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Paul Lusk, Matt Fridley and Mike Brink also stood out as Trenton Wesclin snapped top-ranked Fairbury Prairie Central's 31-game winning streak.
20. Warsaw 92, Spring Valley Hall 85, OT, 1997 Class A championship: Warsaw overcame a five-point deficit in the last minute as Bill Heisler forced overtime with a 23-foot, three-point shot with four seconds left. Warsaw, led by Craig Wear's 29 points and 13 rebounds, went on to defeat Spring Valley Hall despite a record 51-point performance by Shawn Jepson.
21. Peoria Manual 65, Thornton 62, 1997 Class AA semifinals: After beating Thornton in the state championship games in 1995 and 1996, Peoria Manual won a duel of the state's two two-rated teams in a 1997 semifinal.
Frank Williams scored 20, Marcus Griffin 16 and Sergio McClain 14 to spark the Rams. Thornton was led by Erik Herring (22), Melvin Ely (15), Antwaan Randle El (12) and Napoleon Harris (10).
22. Thornridge 104, Quincy 69, 1972 Class AA championship: For purists, it was the gold standard of state finals, like the Chicago Bears crushing the New England Patriots in the 1986 Super Bowl. Quinn Buckner, Boyd Batts, Mike Bonczyk, Greg Rose, Ernie Dunn and their friends, a popular choice as the best team in state history, closed out a magnificent 33-0 season by blowing out Quincy 57-26 in the first half.