Althoff took another step toward the Class 3A state basketball championship and the first in 99 seasons of high school basketball in Belleville.
The Crusaders advanced to the title game at the expense of the same team that upended their championship run last year. Junior Jordan Goodwin scored a game-high 25 points in a 66-62 win over defending champion Westchester St. Joseph.
“It’s ironic, isn’t it, that we should meet up in another game like this?” longtime St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore said. “It’s like deja vu, but in reverse. The game was almost identical to last year, except they came out on top this time.”
Althoff (31-2) will play Lincoln-Way West (22-9) for the championship at 2 p.m. Saturday. Lincoln-Way West was a 45-41 upset winner over No. 6-ranked Peoria Manual in the other semifinal Friday.
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The Crusaders and St. Joseph went into the fourth quarter tied at 45. The game, from that point, became a showdown between a pair of All-State first-team performers.
St. Joseph’s Nick Rakocevic, who has entertained college offers from across the Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences, finished with 17 points. But he was held without a field goal on three attempts in the second half, while scoring just two more from the free-throw line.
Goodwin, meanwhile, scored nine fourth-quarter points while baiting Rakocevic into four personal fouls. The 6-foot-3 Althoff forward also outrebounded Rakocevic 15-12.
“The big thing was the boards,” Pingatore said. “We caught up and did better in the second half, but we couldn’t contend with Goodwin. Most of his shots were to the basket and off offensive boards.”
Goodwin finished 10-for-15 from the field, but struggled at the free throw line in the first half, hitting just 2-of-9 attempts after missing his first six.
“I just tried to stay aggressive and keep my confidence,” he said. “I know (Rakocevic) is their best player and that we had to stop him to win. I enjoyed the challenge.”
It wasn’t just Goodwin alone. Brendon Gooch had his second consecutive double-double of the postseason, putting up 10 points to go with 11 rebounds. And senior guard C.J. Coldon pinned down St. Joseph’s freshman point guard Marquis Walker to just four second-half points.
“Down the stretch, I thought C.J.’s defense on him was the difference in the game,” Althoff coach Greg Leib said. “He didn’t let him have that angle to the rim that set their offense off like he did at the start of the game.”
The Crusaders dominated the boards, especially on the offensive end where they outrebounded St. Joseph 21-13.
“We knew they were big and that Goodwin was going to be aggressive,” Rakocevic said. “We just didn’t have a way to keep them off the boards. I tried to be as physical as I can and I know my teammates did, too, but we knew they were going to crash coming in the game.”
St. Joseph (25-9) will face Manual (26-5) in the third place game at noon.
Althoff shot just 37 percent from the floor and a dismal 3-for-14 at the free-throw line in the first half. That allowed St. Joseph to stay close.
After falling behind 35-28 early in the third quarter, St. Joseph rallied with a 13-4 run to take its first lead since Walker opened the scoring with a 3-pointer.
Goodwin stopped the bleeding with a dunk over the Chargers 6-5 sophomore Jordan Boyd, then with a hard drive past Rakocevic to break a 43-43 tie.
Gooch and Keenen Young both scored on an 8-2 Althoff run, capped by another monster dunk by Goodwin that opened a 57-49 lead.
The Crusaders, having struggled on its free throws most of the game, closed out 9-of-10 from the line. Young and Gooch combined on eight in a row inside the final 32 seconds to clinch the victory.
“I thought Keenen’s free throws down the stretch were tremendous,” Leib said. “He’s just so steady with the ball.”
Joining Goodwin and Gooch in double figures were senior Tarkus Ferguson, who added 11 points, and Young, who finished with 10.
For St. Joseph, Rakocevic scored 15 points in the first half. The heavily recruited Division I prospect also had 12 rebounds. Walker finished with 18 after scoring 14 in the first half. Jason Towers also had 12 points to go with seven rebounds for the Chargers.