The Edwardsville Tigers ran into more than a reputation at the Illinois State University Class 4A super-sectional Tuesday night.
A roster deep with scorers lifted Chicago Simeon to a 76-64 win over No.1-ranked Edwardsville and a step closer to an eighth state basketball championship.
Four Simeon players reached double figures, including senior Evan Gilyard, who led all scorers with 30 points.
“It’s a luxury when you have five guys out there who can score,” said Simeon head coach Robert Smith. “Watching them on film, they didn’t really guard well because they only play five or six people. They don’t want to get in foul trouble, so we want to attack the goal as much as possible and see if we can get some people in foul trouble or make some layups.”
Simeon (28-3), winners of six state titles and a second-place finish from 2006 to 2013, advanced to its ninth Final Four and a semifinal showdown with No. 2 Bolingbrook in Peoria Friday. The Wolverines finished in third place last season.
The Tigers (30-2) lost to Southwestern Conference rival Belleville West Dec. 3, then rattled off 26 wins straight on the way to their fourth sectional title in five seasons. Edwardsville finished fourth in Class 4A in 2014 and third in 2013.
After capturing the top spot on the Associated Press state-wide poll and a spot on MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national rankings, Edwardsville hoped 2017 would be the year.
“It was a good year,” said Mike Waldo, who has 617 wins in 28 seasons at Edwardsville. “Our conference was outstanding, every game was hard and our guys came to work every day.”
The loss spelled the end for six Edwardsville seniors, including A.J. Epenesa, Mark Smith and Oliver Stephen, who each topped 1,000 points for their careers.
Each finished in double figures Tuesday.
“I think that they really, really like each other, and they really like playing together,” Waldo said of his seniors. “They’ve known each other for a long time, and they like being on the basketball court together. They admire and respect one another so much that I think they’re emotional about that.”
Jack Marinko hit a 3-pointer late in the first quarter, but that set off a 13-2 Simeon run that put the Wolverines ahead 27-15 to start the second.
Sophomore KeJuan Clements drained a 3-pointer, and Gilyard scored seven straight points during a 12-0 run that widened Simeon’s lead to 21 and set the Wolverines up for a 44-27 halftime lead.
Simeon shot a red-hot 76.9 percent in the second quarter and had six 3-pointers in the first half.
“My guys did a good job making them shoot perimeter shots; they just made them all,” Waldo said. “We executed well defensively; it’s just the guys who got the shots made them.”
Mark Smith managed nine first-half points on three field goals and a pair of free throws, despite being shadowed closely by Simeon’s box-and-one defense. He finished the game with 12, shooting 4 of 13 with just one 3-pointer in seven attempts.
“We know (Mark) Smith likes to put up shots and control things, so wanted to contain him,” Robert Smith said. “We lost some of the other guys in transition but did a great job on him.”
The Tigers shot 33.3 percent in the first half and 44.9 percent in the game.
“That’s a defense we haven’t seen all year,” said Waldo. “The guy on Mark (Smith) was quick. I thought he did a great job scoring when he had a chance. That’s a rangy, fast box, and it’s hard to get wide open against it. “
The Simeon lead reached 52-31 with 4:28 left, but Stephen scored 11 points in a 19-6 Tiger run that made it an eight-point game with a little more than six minutes left to play.
Edwardsville maintained that margin until the 1:01 mark. The Wolverines closed by hitting 13 of 15 free throw attempts, 12 of them by Gilyard.
Gilyard, who has given his verbal commitment to play at the University of Texas-El Paso, finished with 30 points. Messiah Jones had 16 points to go with 10 rebounds. Clements also had 16 and Talen Horton-Tucker finished with 12.
Epenesa closed his career with 16 points and a game-high 12 rebounds for his 22nd double-double of the season. Oliver was 4 of 12 from 3-point range and finished with 16. Marinko had 13.