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Top-seeded Curie makes it through quarterfinal test

Daily Leader
Daily Leader
 2021-12-31
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Chikasa Ofoma had a postgame look of escaping a dogfight.

“That was one of the top-three toughest games we have had this season,” said Ofoma, a senior leader for undefeated Chicago Curie.

The St. Charles North boys basketball team certainly earned the respect of the traditional Public League power.

But the Condors made a few more plays down the stretch in the teams’ quarterfinal battle royale at the historic Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

Phoenix Bullock and Ofoma had back-breaking three-point plays with two-plus minutes remaining; the cushion gave the Condors the breathing space they needed in their 63-54 victory.

“As individuals, we are very good players,” Ofoma said. “But we are a really great team if we all play together.”

But the final score proved to be the largest spread the Condors enjoyed as the North Stars missed a point-blank shot moments before Bullock secured the first of the Condors’ game-altering three-point plays with 2:25 to play.

“We made some defensive mistakes at the end of the game,” said St. Charles North post Ethan Marlowe, who was brilliant in scoring a game-high 19 points while also achieving the same distinction with his 13 rebounds and 3 blocks.

But both Marlowe and Jordan Love, who added 12 points, played much of the fourth quarter with four fouls.

Marlowe had to sit next to coach Tom Poullin after drawing his fourth foul 36 seconds into the decisive quarter.

“We have to play smarter,” Poulin said of his two key seniors riding the pines in the fourth.

“We were trying to get (Marlowe) in foul trouble,” the Condors’ Bullock said.

St. Charles North nursed a razor-thin 26-25 lead.

But the Condors, who extended their season-long winning streak to 14 games, used thievery in the backcourt to snare a quick 6-point lead after the break.

Marlowe, however, had the ultimate answer, scoring 10 consecutive points on two 3-pointers, a two-handed flush in traffic and another inside score.

“That (personal) stretch was huge for us offensively,” Marlowe said. “I had to keep the team in the game.”

Love’s twin brother, Jude, was even more effective against the top-seeded Condors.

The brothers combined to match the four 3-pointers Marlowe drained as Jude Love complemented the former with 18 points.

Jude Love scored 5 straight points to trim the Condors’ fourth-quarter lead to 51-50.

Marlowe split two free throws to maintain the one-possession game, and the North Stars still retained the ball as the Condors were cited for an intentional foul.

But St. Charles North missed a contested shot in the paint that would have tied the score.

Bullock took an outlet pass and scored at the opposite end to initiate the Condors’ 6-point, two-possession, unanswered run.

“I was missing shots all game,” Bullock said of his decisive drive and score. “Moving the ball, getting defensive stops and talking was the difference (late). We were helping on Marlowe.”

Ofoma and Bullock had 19 and 17 points for Curie.

“It’s tough for guys to play against me,” Ofoma said. “I’m physical and have a strong build.”

Carlos Harris added nine points for the Condors.

Benet 66, Joliet (West) 37

There would be no second slipper for Joliet (West) Wednesday night.

One day after stunning fourth-seeded Bloom at the iconic Pontiac Holiday Tournament, Benet had no interest in allowing the upstart Tigers’ boys basketball team a second consecutive upset.

The Redwings were uncharitable on defense and ran their half-court sets on offense with precision to cruise into the semifinals with a 66-37 victory.

Benet (8-1) concocted a rematch of the 2016 Class 4A state-championship game as undefeated and top-seeded Curie (14-0) awaited in the second semifinal on Thursday.

The traditional Public League power needed a late run to deny a determined St. Charles North crew, 63-54, in the third quarterfinal.

Benet was far less than stellar from the perimeter.

But they quickly adopted a sinister alternative.

“If you’re not hitting your shots, go to the basket,” said Benet senior post Kyle Thomas.

“I like attacking the rim and beating my man off the dribble,” added the Redwings’ Brady Kunka.

The Benet twosome was dynamic in the paint all night.

“Kunka lived up to his advanced billing by repeatedly slashing to the rim, scoring a game-high 18 points in the process.

Thomas, despite sitting out considerable minutes in the first half with a second foul, also tormented the Tigers in the interior with his 7 of 9 field goals.

Thomas showed touch with his mid-range game before exploiting his size advantage in the paint.

“Everything starts on the inside,” said Thomas, the 6-foot-9 center who transferred from the now-shuttered St. Joseph, the school legendary coach Gene Pingatore made famous.

Thomas augmented the game-high Kunka total with 16 points of his own.

The Tigers’ Jeremiah Fears, a celebrated freshman from a famous basketball family, was the only player to score for Joliet West over the first 11 minutes and 15 seconds of the game.

As a result, Benet led 20-6 after the first quarter and trebled the lead to 27-9 before the Tigers finally had a second player connect from the field.

“We executed the game plan really well,” Kunka said. “We got a lot of shots in transition.”

“That may have been our best half offensively,” said Benet coach, on the Redwings’ dominant second-half performance to close out the one-sided game. “I thought our defense was good. They’re a high-powered team.”

“Benet is always very well-coached,” said Joliet West coach Jeremy Kreiger. “They space the floor and shoot very well. They are very unselfish.”

Benet shot 57 percent from the field by connecting on 27 of its 47 shots.

Brennan White was the third Benet player in double figures with 13 points.

Fears led Joliet West (4-6) with 15 points.

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