Boys Basketball: Morgan Park edges Hillcrest
By Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org March 7, 2014 10:56PM
Josh Cunningham, of Morgan Park, pulls in a rebound against Hillcrest for the Boys 3A Regional Championship at Thornridge, Friday, March 7th, 2014 in Dolton | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 10, 2014 6:43AM
Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin told senior Josh Cunningham that if the Mustangs were going to fulfill their ambition of winning their second straight Class 3A state championship, the 6-foot-7 forward was going to have to lead the way.
Cunningham did his part Friday night against Hillcrest in the Thorrnridge Regional title game.
After being held to just six points the first three quarters, Cunningham stepped up over the final eight minutes, scoring 10 points, including a clutch 6-of-6 performance from the free-throw line, as No. 1 seed Morgan Park rallied to beat No. 2 Hillcrest 63-61 in Dolton.
Cunningham and sophomore point guard Charlie Moore (15 points) combined for 18 of the Mustangs’ 19 points in the fourth quarter.
Morgan Park (18-6) advances to play host Rich East on Tuesday in a sectional semifinal in Park Forest.
“Josh has been there before,” Irvin said. “He’s been through the wars. I challenged him. If we’re going to get to the promised land, you have to take us.”
When DeAngelo Isby swished a 15-foot jumper with 1:21 remaining in the fourth quarter, Hillcrest (20-7) had a 59-56 lead.
The Hawks, however, missed a chance to pad their lead, missing the front end of a 1-and-1 and turning the ball over on another possession.
On the other end of the floor, Cunningham buried four free throws and a basket. His free throws with 23 seconds remaining extended the Mustangs’ lead to 62-59.
The Hawks closed to within 62-61 on an Allen Jones jumper with 13.7 second left. Hillcrest then quickly fouled Morgan Park’s Kain Harris (10 points) with 8.2 ticks on the clock. Harris split the free throws, setting Hillcrest up with a chance to win. However, George McDaniel’s three-pointer off the buzzer was off target.
“We knew they were a great team,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t think it would come down to the wire. I had to help my team get the win. I wanted the ball (down the stretch).”
Morgan Park destroyed Hillcrest 77-44 last season in the Joliet Central Supersectional. It was evident from the start that this would be a much different affair.
The Mustangs had their biggest lead of night — 26-18 — after Jarrin Randle knocked down a trey and Lamont Walker (11 points) converted a bucket.
The Hawks, however, fought their way back and eventually grabbed a 45-44 lead on a three-point play by Almari Daniels.
Morgan Park led 56-51 with 3:06 left, when Hillcrest used an 8-0 run, keyed by hoops from Taylor Adway (16 points), McDaniel (14), Daniels and Isby (15), to take a 59-56 lead.
“Turnovers in the fourth quarter killed us,” Hillcrest coach Don Houston said. “People didn’t give us a chance. I’m beyond proud of the kids.”