PEORIA – A good opening half gave Bolingbrook's boys basketball team plenty of optimism that it would earn its first trip to a state championship game on Friday at Carver Arena.
But there's a reason why Simeon has won six titles since 2006 and now will play for an eighth during that span and also appear in its first championship game since 2013 after rallying in the final half for a 60-50 victory in the Class 4A semifinals over the Raiders.
"We talked in the locker room, it was a one-point game and they had two or three consecutive possessions where they got multiple looks. We couldn't secure a rebound," Raiders coach Rob Brost said. "I'm proud how we battled, obviously disappointed that we couldn't make a few more plays down the stretch.
"We didn't rebound. In every game we want more possessions than the other team, that starts with the glass. That's what really jump-started them, those offensive rebounds. Once you get down to a team like that it's hard to bring it back."
The Wolverines (29-3) used a 17-7 advantage in the third quarter to turn a 26-21 halftime deficit into a 38-33 advantage going into the final eight minutes.
After trailing by six points in the first minute of the final quarter, the Raiders (29-2) had one last challenge as they went on a 7-0 run to briefly regain the lead at 40-39 with 6:55 left. Tyler Cochran hit a rebound basket, Nana Akenten tossed in a jumper and Joseph Yesufu connected on a three-pointer to cap that run.
But Simeon stormed right back to move in front for good by going on a 13-2 spurt. Talen Horton-Tucker, who led the winners with 24 points, six rebounds and six assists, hit a layup and an old-fashioned three-point play while Marquis Brown (nine points) tossed in a three-pointer and a jumper and Evan Gilyard (15 points) added two free throws in that run.
Messiah Jones also added 10 points and 12 rebounds for the Wolverines. Leading the Raiders were Akenten (16 points), Malik Binns (10 points, seven rebounds), Yesufu (nine points, six rebounds), Cochran (six points) and Kaleb Thornton (five points).
Simeon owned a 36-29 rebounding edge and made 16-of-20 free throws while the Raiders connected on 4-of-9 attempts from the stripe.
The Raiders led by as many as six points in the initial quarter before settling for a 17-15 lead after eight minutes. They outscored Simeon 9-6 in the second quarter to go up by five at the break before the Wolverines turned the tables on them in the third quarter and built its lead up to as much as 14 points in the late going.
"Bolingbrook is a good team, they pushed us all the way to the limit," Simeon coach Robert Smith said. "They have all the pieces you need to win a state championship. It just was a dog fight out there. It was probably like a mid-major basketball game out there.
"We noticed on film they weren't much of a half-court team. It was just to slow them down. When you get to these games, it's about how you think. I thought we were able to do that."
While Simeon moves on to Saturday's 7:15 p.m. title game against Whitney Young, the Raiders meet Fremd in the third-place game at 5:30 p.m. In the earlier semifinal, Young held off a late rally by Fremd to claim a 53-47 win. After having won no trophies prior to 2015, Bolingbrook will be looking to finish in third place for the second time in three years.