PEORIA — Bigger and faster, the (Chicago) Morgan Park Mustangs finally imposed their will on Cahokia in the second half of the Class 3A state title game Saturday at Carver Arena.
The state's top-ranked Class 3A team for much of the season, Morgan Park started the fourth quarter with a 12-0 run and went on for a 63-48 victory.
Cahokia (33-4) trailed just 35-31 late in the third quarter, but Morgan Park, led by all-staters Billy Garrett and Kyle Davis, put the game away with relentless pressure and its domination of the backboards.
The state title is the second for Morgan Park, which won the Class AA title in 1976.
The second-place finish is the highest ever for Cahokia, which placed fourth in the 1985 Class AA state finals.
But on this day, led by the DePaul-bound Garrett and University of Dayton bound Davis, the Mustangs had too much in the later stages of the third and fourth quarters.
"Let me say just one thing. We are the BEST team in the state. We are the Class 3A state champions," Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said. "I am so proud of my four seniors. They battled and hung in there with us for three and four years. This is their day.''
Garrett led Morgan Park with 14 points while Markee Jackson (13) and Davis (10) were also in double figures.
But the difference in the game was on the boards and defensive end.
Lamont Walker led a group of three players who took turns guarding Cahokia all-state senior Keenan Minor and limited him to eight-shot attempts and only eight points. The Mustangs also forced 14 turnovers, 10 of them coming in the second half.
A day after outrebounding Chicago Orr 44-23 in a semifinal victory, the Comanches were beaten up inside by the Mustangs.
Morgan Park finished with a 43-28 edge on the glass, with 19 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end.
"First of all let me say, I'm very proud of my kids. A new school record for wins (33), second place in the state," Cahokia coach Darian Nash said. "Everybody wants to win. We'll just have to come back and work even harder next year.
"We just didn't do the little things needed to win against a good basketball team. We didn't block out on the boards and we made some bad decisions with the basketball."
Cahokia trailed by as many as 13 points, but used an 8-0 run to end the first half to cut the Mustangs lead to 29-24 at halftime.
Darius Austin then opened the second half with a 15-foot jumper to bring Cahokia within three points.
The Comanches still trailed only 37-31 entering the final quarter before the Mustangs put the game away.
Taking advantage of Cahokia turnovers on three of its first four possessions, Morgan Park got a layup from Garrett, two free throws from reserve guard Charlie Moore, a free throw from Markee Williams and when Davis scored on a 16-foot jumper with 5:47 remaining, the Comanches were down by a 44-31 score.
"We were able to take it to them in the fourth quarter. I think our pressure bothered them and we started to hit some shots,'' Irvin said. "I won't get mad if we miss shots, but I will if we stop shooting.
"The boards were huge for us. We saw that they (Cahokia) were a good rebounding team and so I told Xzavier (Taylor), Billy (Garrett) and Markee (Williams) that we had to really pound the boards. We had a 23-8 edge at halftime and I told them to keep it up.''
Vincent Jackson and Carleton Rivers had nine points apiece to pace Cahokia. Jackson also pulled down a team-high five rebounds.
As the final buzzer sounded, several Cahokia players were overcome by emotion on the court.
"We gave it all we had. We tried our best. We just didn't rebound on either the offensive or defensive boards,'' said Keenan Minor. "We just came up short."
Minor and Rivers sank 3s to help the Comanches tie the game at 9 midway through the first quarter.
But using its quickness and attacking the offensive boards, Morgan Park closed the first period with an 8-0 run to take a 17-9 lead.
An offensive rebound and basket by Taylor started the Mustangs' run, which included a 3 from reserve guard Torry Johnson.
Dominating the backboards with a 23-8 rebounding advantage in the first half, the Mustangs lead grew to 29-16 following a 15-foot jumper by Johnson.
But Cahokia responded with an 8-0 run of its own in the final 1:30 of the second quarter to close to within 29-24 at intermission.
Minor, guarded closely by Walker, got loose for his second two-point basket, and when Rivers broke loose for his third straight basket, Cahokia was within seven.
Minor then closed the first half with a pair of free throws.