There’s a lot in the way between the Althoff Crusaders and a shot at the Class 3A state basketball championship.
First and foremost is a semifinal showdown with two-time defending state champ (Chicago) Morgan Park (22-6), which has lost to only three Illinois schools all season. The Mustangs have handled metro-east teams before at state, having knocked off Cahokia in the 2013 state title game.
They also possess two of the top guards in Illinois in Division I prospects Marcus LoVett, Jr. (19.2 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and four steals per game, 64 3-pointers) and Charlie Moore (18.1 ppg, 89 3-pointers). LoVett has scored 39 points twice and been over 30 points seven times, while Moore erupted for 49 points in the season opener.
Althoff meets Morgan Park at 12:15 p.m. Friday in the 3A semifinals at Peoria’s Carver Arena.
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“They’re athletic, but on top of that they’re well-coached,” Althoff coach Greg Leib said. “Their coach is a defensive-minded guy. They do a great job blitzing you, forcing you to catch the ball where you don’t want to catch it, putting pressure on you and trying to push the issue defensively
“It will be a good challenge for us to see how we weather that and how we can attack it. Hopefully you get past the initial blitz and try to get a good look.”
LoVett, a 6-foot-1 left-hander, is widely considered the top unsigned senior in Illinois. He attended two California high schools before transferring to Morgan Park for his senior year. His nickname is “Bright Lights” and his highlight mix tape on YouTube.com has more than 5 million views.
“He loves the moment,” Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said. “A lot of kids couldn’t handle that nickname and he does fine with it. He plays the game the right way, too, he doesn’t force his game. He lets the game come to him and doesn’t get too high or too low.”
Irvin added, “He’s Russell Westbrook-fast, no doubt.”
St. John’s and Illinois are at the top of Lovett’s list of colleges, along with DePaul, Pitt, Kansas, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Tennessee, Memphis and UCLA.
This game could come down to Althoff’s ability to defend the perimeter and handle Morgan Park’s trademark pressure defense.
“They play so hard and they’re big, too,” Leib said. “They crash the boards, you’ve got to keep them off the glass. It’s probably going to be like playing a bigger version of Carbondale, and Carbondale’s an excellent team.”
Both teams faced Carbondale this season. Althoff beat Carbondale three times, winning 79-70, 72-55 and 77-72. Morgan Park played Carbondale at the Carbondale Holiday Tournament and won 67-58.
Althoff is led by sophomore Jordan Goodwin (19.7 points, 8.4 rebounds per game) and juniors Brendon Gooch (13.1 points, 7.7 rebounds per game, 36 3-pointers) and Tarkus Ferguson (14 ppg, 47 3-pointers).
When Ferguson transferred to Althoff from Cahokia, there were questions about how the offense would flow with so many options available. As it turned out, the Crusaders shared the ball from the first game on and became a much more formidable team because of it.
“We talk about it, we celebrate it,” Leib said. “These guys have been willing to do it and now they reap the blessings of it. They’re 29-3, they’re playing in the final four and if they don’t do that, I don’t believe we’re here.”
The injury to Althoff junior point guard Keenen Young, which kept him out of the lineup until January, also turned up more weapons in sophomores Marvin Bateman (8.5 ppg, 64 3-pointers) and C.J. Coldon (8.3 ppg).
Althoff has won eight in a row and 16 of its last 17. The only loss was a 97-95 double-overtime defeat to fellow 3A final four team (Westchester) St. Joseph at the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout that saw Goodwin go off for 33 points.
“I think we just got closer,” Goodwin said. “We were already brothers, but now it’s like we’re all on the same page. We all want it. As long as we win we don’t care about individual stats. We just want to win.”
Ferguson and many of the Althoff players were together for years on the Southern Illinois Tigers travel team and he later played with Goodwin on the St. Louis Eagles. But going to state is what excites Ferguson the most.
“It’s a true blessing. It’s amazing,” Ferguson said. “I’ve been dreaming of it since I was little. I actually went to Cahokia’s state game when they played Morgan Park my freshman year.”
Goodwin’s father, Tim Goodwin, helped lead Cahokia to a fourth-place finish at the 1985 Class AA state tournament. Can his son take a step closer to a state title?
“My dad talks about it, what he should have done better during the game and how hopefully I don’t make the same mistakes he did,” Jordan Goodwin said. “I’m trying to win it. I don’t know what to expect, but it’s fun right now. The fan love it, our school’s having fun. It’s just good to be part of Althoff right now.”
Leib and Tim Goodwin were college basketball teammates at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. How does Leib contrast the father and son?
“Absolutely it’s how they compete,” Leib said. “His dad was just like that, a quick rebounder, almost looks like they miss on purpose to pad their rebounding stats. The thing with Jordan, if you’re going for the ball and he’s going for the ball, it’s a pretty good chance he’s going to get it regardless of who you are.”
Experience vs. rookies
Morgan Park played teams from six different states outside of Illinois. The Mustangs are state tourney veterans while Althoff is making its first trip.
“Morgan Park’s probably got punch-cards for everywhere they go,” Leib said. “It probably is a disadvantage not being there (before) and not going through it, but our guys like to compete.”
The Mustangs aren’t all about their guards. They also rely heavily on 6-8 junior forward Alonzo Chatman (8.1 ppg), junior Jamal Burton (8.2 ppg) and 6-5 forward Sam Mack (6.7 ppg).