PEORIA — Whitney Young has been headlined all season by star seniors Jahlil Okafor, Paul White and Miles Reynolds. The trio has played a lot of basketball together during their career at Whitney Young and all three Division I prospects were a big reason why the Dolphins were in prime position to win the Class 4A state championship heading into Saturday night's championship game against Benet.
But as Okafor and White struggled to a combined eight points through three quarters against the Redwings, Reynolds stepped up with his outside shooting as the St. Louis commit knocked down three first-half three-pointers to lead Whitney Young with 19 points as the Dolphins won the Class 4A state title, 46-44, over Benet.
"This is huge, especially for me, Miles and Paul, in particular," Okafor said. "We came in here freshman year together to accomplish this and to finally do it as seniors, it's a great feeling."
The title marks the first Whitney Young state championship since 2009 when the Dolphins beat Waukegan, 69-66, to earn the Class 4A state title. It's the third state championship in program history for Whitney Young (29-5) after the Dolphins also won in 1998.
Okafor, a McDonald's All-American and Duke commit, finished with eight points and six rebound while White, a Georgetown commit, also added eight points and seven rebounds.
Benet was able to hang tough with the Dolphins in the second half after trailing Whitney Young by 12 points in the second quarter. The Redwings struggled to find consistent offense throughout the night, as they shot 38 percent from the field (17-for-44) and 21 percent from three-point range (4-for-19), but they remained tough thanks in-part to 12 offensive rebounds and 13 second-chance points.
Despite a low scoring total from star senior center Sean O'Mara (eight points, eight rebounds) — a Xavier commit — the Redwings weren't intimated at all by Whitney Young as junior forward Colin Bonnett finished with 12 points and senior shooter Collin Pelletieri added 11 points to lead Benet.
"They earned the right to play in the state championship game," Okafor said of Benet. "They wanted to be state champions just as bad as we did."
The Redwings (25-8) cut the Whitney Young lead to two points with 22 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter on an O'Mara putback, but the Redwings couldn't muster enough offense to get past the Dolphins.
White knocked in a pair of free throws with 19 seconds remaining to give Whitney Young a 46-42 lead and Liam Nelligan (seven points) scored the game's final bucket on a driving lay-up with less than five seconds left as the running clock ran out on Benet as Whitney Young never attempted to in-bound the ball.
"We were picked to lose this game by 27 points. That kind of fired us up, to be honest," O'Mara said. "We deserved the same respect that they got. We were at the same place and had to beat just as good of teams. We've gone up against the teams they've gone up against and it's not like the spotlight was new to us. They're a great team and they got us tonight."
Both Benet and Whitney Young compiled early losses on the season, but both teams played incredibly difficult schedules to reach the Class 4A state title game. The Redwings played 19 games this season against teams that won at least 20 games while Whitney Young played arguably the toughest national high school schedule in the country.
"We've worked since summer of last year to get to this position — and we got here now — but obviously I would have liked to see it go in a different direction," O'Mara said. "But just to be here with these guys and all the heart they have and all the respect I have for them, hopefully they share that feeling with me. I'm just really proud to be here with Coach Heidkamp and his staff all behind us and it's been a blessing to be apart of."