With Althoff and Morgan Park ranked 1-2 in Class 3A throughout the season, it was interesting to see both teams sizing each other up over the weekend.
Top-ranked Morgan Park (19-2) made a trip to see second-ranked Althoff (21-2) beat Cahokia on Friday, then both Morgan Park and Althoff were competing in the same gym Saturday night against different teams at the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout.
Are the two 3A powerhouse squads on a collision course that will end at the Class 3A state tournament in Peoria?
“I can taste it,” said Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin, whose team saw its dream of three straight state titles end with an 82-74 loss to Althoff in the 2015 3A semifinals despite a 45-point outing by guard Marcus LoVett. “I’ve been waiting on them since March. I can taste that game right now.”
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It’s too early to tell if the teams will have a rematch, but both teams flexed their muscles Saturday in O’Fallon.
Althoff ripped Class 4A third-ranked Chicago Kenwood 80-64 and got 30 points and 11 rebounds from junior star Jordan Goodwin. Morgan Park got 25 points from Memphis recruit Charlie Moore in a 76-65 victory over Hazelwood Central that included 31 points from Central’s Kansas State recruit Xavier Sneed.
“They’re a really good program,” Althoff coach Greg Leib said of Kenwood (15-3). “They’ll probably be up in Peoria at the end of the year. They’ve got size, they’ve got skill. They’re going to be a tough out.”
Althoff ended Morgan Park’s run of two straight state titles last season, then lost to Westchester St. Joseph in the state title game. Both teams have plenty of firepower returning.
“It’s always a fun rivalry, especially with coming downstate to play,” Irvin said of his team’s trip to Southern Illinois over the weekend. “They’ve got a good ballclub, actually Jordan Goodwin and I are pretty close friends. We’re always talking stuff to each other.”
Right now, both teams seem to have a healthy respect for each other. Goodwin and Moore appear to be two of the top players in the state and both loaded teams have several other Division I players.
“Absolutely, it’s a respect factor both ways,” Irvin said. “We both talk a lot of stuff and the kids like paying against each other. It’s fun — and it’s fun for the state of Illinois, also.”
Goodwin had plenty of fun Friday during one of the biggest games of his career.
“We had three games this week and we played better in every game,” he said. “We’re just one unit right now. I think we just wanted to send a message to let everybody know that we’re coming for the state tournament this year.
“Winning the state championship is all we want to do.”
Althoff senior and Southern Illinois University Carbondale recruit Brendon Gooch talked about a dunk by Goodwin that got everyone going. Goodwin threw it down after taking a long lead pass from Illinois-Chicago recruit Tarkus Ferguson.
“It felt good because I got one — and I wanted one so bad in this game,” Goodwin said. “Tarkus always does that, we’ve got like six of them this year like that.”
“We want to get dunks, because when we get dunks it gets us going,” Gooch said. “We get energy and then put on a show like that. It’s fun.’
Gooch has seen a lot of good games from Goodwin, but seemed especially impressed Saturday.
“It’s probably one of the top,” Gooch said. “When we beat Morgan Park (in the 2015 state semifinals) he almost had a triple-double, but this game was pretty good, too. He’s a great player and I love playing with him. He’s so unselfish.”
Leib seemed nearly as impressed by Ferguson’s pass as he was with Goodwin’s crowd-pleasing slam dunk.
“I think Coach (Althoff football coach Ken) Turner should have run more of those plays where the wide receiver throws the football,” Leib said. “Geez, he throws it about 80 yards off his back heel. Tark has a great arm. I know he had eight points, but his defense was unbelievable.
“He made them change the way they wanted to go about it. Tark changed shots, blocked shots and then rebounded out of that. He had a great game.”
Pollman’s 3-pointer sinks Central
Central (22-4) doubled its season loss total in the span of three days last week and the second defeat came Saturday on a last-second 3-pointer at the buzzer by Mater Dei senior Nick Pollmann.
The Knights (17-5) erased a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter with frenetic defense and scoring, but also took advantage of missed free throws and turnovers by the Cougars. Central, ranked second in the state in Class 2A, had beaten Mater Dei 57-44 on Jan. 22 at the Nashville Invitational Tournament.
“We had just put the play in the week before,” said Pollmann, who came off a screen by Mason Toennies before drilling a 3-pointer from the top of the key for the game-winner. “It’s not really anything too complicated, just a couple screens. The play was made for me to get a shot and we made it happen.
“When I first caught the ball, I pump-faked and got the defender to back off a little bit. That gave me too to make the shot and I knocked it down.”
Pollmann had a game-high 22 points and had a solid feeling when the ball left his fingertips.
“It felt good when I let it go,” he said. “It looked good the whole way. I’ve grown up around Mater Dei basketball, so it’s a shot you dream about hitting your whole life.”
Once the buzzer sounded, the Mater Dei student section stormed the court and engulfed Pollmann and the rest of the Knights. It was the latest exciting chapter in a long history of emotional games between the two Breese city rivals.
“I think it’s a respect for each other over the years,” Pollmann said. “It’s just incredible two schools in one town can have the amount of quality players and teams that we’ve had over the years.
“Not only is it a big rivalry game, but they ranked second in 2A this year, so it’s a big win to beat a team that’s quality like that. It definitely helped being at home, packed house and everything. The fans were really great.”
Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg challenged his team during a timeout earlier in the fourth quarter.
“We challenged them with two options,” he said. “When you’re under pressure you can either fight or play, it’s your decision. They did a great job the next three minutes and put a lot of pressure on (Central).”
Central was 18-for-28 at the foul line Saturday and missed seven free throws in the fourth quarter when trying to hold on to the lead.
“Coach told us don’t quit, just keep playing hard,” Pollmann said. “All of a sudden I looked up at the scoreboard and we’re only down four.”
Jordan Kampwerth had 12 points for Mater Dei while Lucas Theising and Toennies had seven each. Logan Kohrmann led Central, which was coming off a loss to Columbia on Thursday, with 20 points.
Even riding the momentum of a strong fourth-quarter comeback, Mater Dei was still trailing by two with 6.9 seconds remaining coming out of a timeout.
“Instead of going for the tie, we went for the win,” Schadegg said. “I felt we exerted that much energy to get back into it, so we were going to take our chances to win it.
“He stepped back behind the line and hit a three right from the top of the key to get it done.”
Schadegg said the win should help Mater Dei in its 3A playoff seeding, but realizes the Knights have a tough road. Despite losing a lot of talent from their 2A state tourney qualifier a year ago, they are 17-5.
“We’ve been grinding it out,” Schadegg said. “It seems like nothing’s ever easy with this group, but they’ve got some fight in them. They find a way to get it done at the end of the game.
“It’s not always pretty or the way you’d hoped for, but they’ve been getting it done for most of the year.”
Belleville News-Democrat Boys Basketball Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses; records through Sunday:
Large school rankings (Class 3A-4A)
East St. Louis
Also receiving votes: Belleville West (9-11), Mater Dei (17-5), Granite City (12-10), Columbia (16-6), Highland (12-11), Cahokia (11-13)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
Also receiving votes: Wesclin (11-12), Roxana (17-8), Carlyle (12-14)