PEORIA — Morgan Park rallied from a double-digit second-half deficit on Saturday afternoon as the Mustangs captured their second consecutive Class 3A state title with a 59-49 win over Lincoln.
Lincoln led, 39-26, midway through the third quarter before Morgan Park used a 9-0 run at the end of the quarter to cut the Railers lead to 39-35. The Mustangs continued to run from there as Lincoln slowly unraveled after a strong-shooting first half. Morgan Park was finally able to force some turnovers on the defensive end in the second half and the Mustang offense finally figured out the Lincoln 1-2-2 zone. Morgan Park closed the game on a 33-10 run.
"We were down nine points going into the locker room and as I walked into the locker room, I said to myself, 'this ain't me,'" Morgan Park head coach Nick Irvin said. "So I took my jacket off, rolled my sleeves up and I knew my guys would follow that lead. And we came out and left everything out there. From the start of the third to the end of the fourth, I'm proud of these guys."
[HIGHLIGHTS: Morgan Park vs. Lincoln Class 3A Final]
"We've haven't gone out of (the 1-2-2 zone) in 24 years and it won't happen for the next three (years)," Lincoln head coach Neil Alexander said after the game.
The Mustangs (24-6) were led in scoring by senior forward Josh Cunningham (13 points) while fellow senior forward Lamont Walker and sophomore point guard Charlie Moore each added 12 points for the Mustangs. Morgan Park also got a tremendous boost from its bench, as the Mustangs had 17 bench points. Sophomore guard Jarrin Randall (eight points), junior guard Kain Harris (five points) and senior guard Dellan Whatley all provided key bench minutes for Morgan Park.
Whatley's two steals at the end of the third quarter led to two layups that helped ignite Morgan Park's third quarter run.
"That was big-time," Irvin said of Whatley's steals. "We call him 'Roach.' I've been on Roach all year to be a leader and I expected a lot out of him and his time was today. He's been going through a lot. His Grandma passed last week, he's been going through a whole lot. So I decided to go with him and I trusted him and he came through."
Lincoln led, 30-21, at the half after they came out red-hot from the three-point line. The Railers hit 7-for-14 three-pointers in the first half but cooled down in the second half, as they only shot 2-for-12 from the three-point line to finish 9-for-26 (34 percent) for the game. Lincoln shot 42 percent overall (18-for-42) from the field.
"The last four minutes they came at us hard and we didn't adjust," Alexander said.
Junior forward Gavin Block led the Railers with 19 points on the afternoon. The Railers finish the season with a 34-3 record.
"We had a great year, but I think the ballgame was won in the last part of the third quarter and the fourth quarter," Alexander said.
Morgan Park won its second consecutive Class 3A state championship despite losing the Red-South conference title to Bogan, the Proviso West Holiday Tournament to Stevenson and the Chicago Public League playoff quarterfinals to Whitney Young.
"That makes the win even sweeter," senior forward Josh Cunningham said. "To come out and end the year on top after that is a great feeling."