PEORIA — If the Cahokia Comanches have heard it once, they've heard it 100 times from coach Darian Nash. Defense wins championships.
But Friday, the Comanches used a dominating effort on the backboards and the offensive firepower of Keenan Minor and Derenzo Jennings to reach the Class 3A state championship game.
Minor and Jennings combined for 24 first-half points as Cahokia broke out to a 13-point halftime lead then held off a late Chicago Orr rally for a 56-46 semifinal victory at Carver Arena.
Making just the second state tournament appearance in school history, Cahokia (33-3) will take on another Chicago Public League power -- top-ranked Morgan Park (32-3) -- in the title game at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Cahokia's only other state tournament appearance resulted in a fourth-place finish at the 1985 Class AA state tournament.
But thanks to Minor (20 points), Jennings (17) and a 44-23 advantage on the backboards, this time Cahokia will be playing for a bigger trophy.
"It feels great,'' Jennings said. "We knew this would be a tough game, but if we stayed together and played as a family, we knew we could win. That's what we did. We stayed together even when they (Orr) made a run at us.
"I've prepared all year long for a chance to help us get here and I was able to hit some shots. But it's about the team. Like I said, it feels great.''
With Minor and Jennings both hitting 3-point shots, Cahokia blew out to an early 12-4 lead and owned a 14-10 advantage after one quarter.
But with 6-foot, 7-inch junior Darius Austin and guard Carleton Rivers banging the boards and Jennings and Minor doing what they wanted on the offensive end, Cahokia seized command in the second quarter.
Leading 16-14 following a basket by Orr's Louis Adams at the 4:51 mark of the second quarter, Cahokia went on a 9-0 run to build an 11-point lead.
"We just didn't do a very good job in that stretch. It is said that basketball is a game of runs and they had a run in the second quarter. We tried, and I'm proud of the kids effort, but that three or minute spurt was probably the difference in the game,'' Orr coach Louis Adams said. "Cahokia was just the better team today.''
Austin scored on a short-jumper, Jennings connected on a 3 and two free throws and when Minor hit a pair of free throws with 2:25 left in the first half, Cahokia was up 25-14.
The Comanches would go on to lead 32-19 at halftime. Austin and Rivers scored just six points in the first two quarters, but combined for 11 rebounds. Cahokia outrebounded Orr 24-13 in the first two periods.
"I wasn't happy and we hadn't done a very good job of rebounding in a couple of games at the regional and sectional and so that's something we really worked on and focused on in the last few days,'' Nash said. "Darius and Vincent really did good a good job of rebounding, but I thought overall we did a good job of blocking out.
"There were a couple of times when they beat us. But that's going to happen. I thought we executed on both ends of the floor. Derenzo stepped up and had a big game and again we held a very good team to 46 points. It's like I said, defense wins championships."
In all four Comanches, led by Austin (10) had at least six rebounds. Rivers added nine while Jackson and Gary Hickman had six apiece.
Austin, who added 10 points to finish with a double-double, and Jackson opened the third quarter with jumpers as Cahokia took its biggest lead at 36-19.
Brandon Clemons, who led Orr with 13 points, and Donnell Williams scored in the final 30 seconds of the third period to cut Cahokia's lead to 45-35.
Leading 48-36 with 4:44 remaining in the game following a short jumper by Minor, the Comanches showed their first signs of nerves.
Commtting turnovers on three of four possessions, the Comanches did not score for nearly three minutes as Orr made its final push.
Clemons scored on a short jumper, Jamal McDowell scored on a layup and when Clemons nailed a 14-foot jumper with 1:52 left, Orr was within 48-42.
But as he has done for four years, Minor responded in the clutch.
The 6-foot, 2-inch senior hit two free throws at the 1:28 mark and again with 1:07 left as Cahokia opened its lead back up to 10 points.
"We picked it up again when we needed too,'' Minor said. "We hung together and made big shots and big plays down the stretch.''