North Chicago falls short as Peoria Central wins 3A championship

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North Chicago falls short as Peoria Central wins 3A championship

By Michael O'Brien
YourSeason.com

PEORIA, ILNorth Chicago senior Aaron Simpson was a star as soon as he stepped on the high school court, helping the Warhawks advance deep into the state playoffs his entire career. He was generally at his best in March.

That Simpson magic helped spark a North Chicago fourth-quarter comeback Saturday, but it wasnt enough. Peoria Central beat the Warhawks 72-64 to win the Class 3A state championship.

Simpson scored 26 points, shooting 10-for-26 from the field. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, his layup with 4:28 to play brought North Chicago within four points, but that was as close as it would get.

Simpson finishes his career as North Chicagos all-time leading scorer, with third- and fourth-place trophies in the state tournament.

We are going to miss Aaron, North Chicago coach Gerald Coleman said. Its a sad day for me. I had been waiting on him since sixth grade. To coach him was awesome. We always had 25 points before tip-off.

The Warhawks led for most of the first quarter, but Peoria Central started to assert itself midway through the second quarter. The Lions had a definite size advantage.

They made us change a lot of shots, that was a factor, Simpson said.

Peoria Central led by 14 late in the third quarter. North Chicago staged a steady, valiant comeback at that point, using a 13-5 run to cut the deficit to four on Simpsons layup. But the effort took a toll.

Fatigue got to us, Simpson said. We were tired. We didnt have a lot of guys that were able to come in and play for us.

Simpson made a point to compliment Peoria Central senior Jerrell White.

White is a great player, Simpson said. He played a lot of defense on me.

Sophomore JaVairius Amos-Mays scored 17 and grabbed eight rebounds and sophomore Kurt Hall scored 11 and had eight rebounds for the Warhawks (25-7).

We have three very good sophomores, Coleman said. Im very excited about next years team.

The first half was a showcase for Peoria Central senior Aldonis Foote, who threw down two spectacular dunks and blocked a North Chicago three-point attempt five rows into the seats. He scored 17 points.

I didnt know he could do that, Simpson said. I was surprised too.

Peoria Centrals last state title was in 2004, the second consecutive championship for the team captained by Shaun Livingston, who was in the NBA just a few months later.

The Lions have won five state championships and their program is one of the most prestigious in the state.

Good for our school, our program, our city, Peoria Central coach Dan Ruffin said. Peoria High is the pride of Peoria right now. My kids were fantastic today.

Over the past two seasons, North Chicago has slowly begun to earn some respect. The Warhawks beat two highly-regarded programs: Marshall and Springfield Lanphier, to advance to the title game.

We made it a step better than last year, Coleman said. Im proud of our kids. I thought they left it out on the court.

"There are a whole lot of teams that would love to be in second place. Its good for our community.

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After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

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USA TODAY

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."