The state’s consensus No. 1 team looked a lot more like a December work-in-progress than the defending Class 4A champion.
The state’s consensus No. 1 prospect looked the part at times, was underwhelming at others and spent too much of crunch time saddled to the bench.
The matchup of Illinois’ best team against its most-heralded player did not quite live up to its billing, though both certainly flashed potential in Curie’s 63-53 victory over East St. Louis and Illini-bound center Jeremiah Tilmon in the Elite Classic on Friday night at the UIC Pavilion.
Allante Pickens scored a game-high 16 points, while Terry Smith, Jr. had 15 and Tulsa recruit Elijah Joiner added 11 points, six assists and three steals for the Condors (3-0). The 6-foot-10 Tilmon had 10 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes but missed eight crucial minutes with foul trouble that even Curie coach Mike Oliver and 6-7 twins Tyree and Treavon Marton thought was unwarranted.
“It was sloppy, but a win,” Oliver said. “Our overall energy, we played in spurts. Tilmon is a handful. He got a couple foul calls that were questionable. When a guy comes all the way from East St. Louis and you make calls like that, you are kind of taking away from the game.
“People come to see him. People don’t come back because the best player is on the bench with those type of fouls.”
A pair of particularly questionable calls left Tilmon with three fouls early in the third quarter and forced him to the bench when he was called for a technical, which is also a personal foul, for hanging on the rim with four minutes left in the third.
That Tilmon dunk cut Curie’s lead to 29-28, but by the time he checked back in to start the fourth quarter, the Condors had gone on a 17-3 run to take a 46-31 lead.
“I don’t feel like they should have been called,” Tilmon said. “But I’ve got to live through it and keep my head up.”
Reliant on current DePaul freshman Devin Gage for fourth-quarter scoring during its championship run, Curie did not put the Flyers away easily.
The Condors’ lead was 51-44 when Tilmon fouled out an a reach-in following a Curie defensive rebound with 3:45 remaining, and East St. Louis (2-2) later had a chance to make it a one-possession game.
“We’re looking to close out up 13, 14 points, and we’re jacking up threes,” Oliver said. “We’ve got to get better at that.”
Curie hopes to have an opportunity to do so on Saturday when the Condors take on defending Class 3A champion Belleville Althoff and the state’s top perimeter player, Saint Louis University recruit Jordan Goodwin, at the Marshall County Hoopfest in Kentucky.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Joiner said. “That is one thing we have to do.”