With neither team able to keep momentum in a battle of two defending state champions, a modest 5-0 run late from Chicago Curie proved to be the back-breaker for the Althoff Crusaders.
At Saturday’s Marshall County Hoopfest, Curie taking the first two-possession lead of the fourth quarter was the difference maker, as it upended Althoff 81-80 behind its run in the final two minutes.
The two reigning Illinois champions exchanged the lead nine times and were tied 10 times, until Curie used a bucket from Dennis Handy and three free throws from Tulsa signee Elijah Joiner to take a 79-74 advantage with 46.2 seconds left. After the Crusaders trimmed their deficit to two, Joiner sealed the game with a pair of free throws with 7.5 seconds left.
“(Curie) made some shots down the stretch, and if they don’t make those shots, who knows what happens,” Althoff head coach Greg Leib said. “We just have to keep competing, keep working on the process of getting better daily and see where it gets us by March.”
Without three-year starter C.J. Coldon — on a football visit to Wyoming — defending Class 3A state champion Althoff (4-2) was right in the game with Curie (5-0), the 4A title holder. It was the rebounding and second-chance points that played the biggest factor in its loss, Leib said.
Curie outrebounded Althoff by 13 and had more offensive rebounds (20) than Althoff had defensive boards (15). That led to 17 second-chance points for Curie.
“They are a good team, but we were right with them,” Althoff’s Marvin Bateman said. “Those rebounds and second-chance points were really big.”
While Althoff’s Saint Louis University signee Jordan Goodwin did what has become standard for him — 30 points and 11 rebounds — shots from Bateman kept the Crusaders within striking distance. The 6-foot-5 senior drained seven 3-pointers in the game, including four in a back-and-forth final quarter, to finish with 26 points.
His 3-pointer with two seconds left in the game cut the Crusaders’ deficit to one, but Althoff was out of timeouts to stop the clock.
Joiner scored 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting to pace Curie, which also got a 23-point, eight-rebound effort from Terry Smith Jr.
Now in the same class as Curie, Althoff plans to use Saturday’s narrow loss as a learning lesson in its hopes to meet the Condors again deep in the state playoffs.
“We are in a spot where we want to be, but we have to get better. We lost, but we know what to do,” Bateman said.
In the prestigious Marshall County Hoopfest, which year by year features some of the best programs and prospects in the country, Lieb’s Crusaders didn’t back down from the challenge of facing a state power like Curie.
“We get in these situations so we get ourselves prepared for big games in the state series, and that’s why you play games like this,” he added. “You don’t get ready by beating Bugtussle or Bunnyville. You have to go out and play people, and you can’t find better competition in the country for us than a three-hour drive to Marshall County.”