By: Eric Van Dril | March 18, 2017
Whitney Young’s victory over Simeon in the Class 4A state championship game was, in several ways, a reversal of what had happened in the Wolverines’ pair of win over the Dolphins earlier this season.
The victor, of course, was different.
Whitney Young beat Simeon 60-50 in overtime on Saturday, March 18. It held the Wolverines to just one field goal in the final 11 minutes of the game.
But there were three other areas that were different when compared to the two previous times these two teams played — a seven-point Simeon win in December, and an 11-point victory by the Wolverines in the city semifinals.
Whitney Young’s second possession of the state championship game ended with junior guard Justin Boyd drilling a 3-pointer.
That shot proved to be very significant. Boyd had missed the first 3-pointer in each of his previous three playoff games, and he finished all three of those contests 0-for-1 from deep.
The state championship game was different, however. Boyd kept shooting after he hit his first 3-pointer. He drained 5 of his 10 attempts from beyond the arc, including a triple with 2:55 remaining in overtime.
That shot gave the Dolphins a 53-50 advantage. It ended up being the game-winner
“During practice, one of our assistant coaches always tells me, ‘It’s your game. Just go out there and don’t be hesitant. Just shoot the ball,’” Boyd said. “In warmups, that’s what I was focused on — making sure I had lift in my legs, making sure I followed through. I just made sure everything’s right.”
Everything was right for both Boyd and senior Lucas Williamson, who went 5-for-6 from deep.
“He hit the first 3, and then when it came to me, I got it rolling,” Williamson said. “We both were on today.”
Boyd had only attempted three 3-pointers in his previous three games, yet the way he shot the ball in the state championship game wasn’t surprising to Williamson.
“He’s deadly. We see it in practice every day,” Williamson said, of Boyd. “If he didn’t step up, we wouldn’t have won this game. Total props to him. It just shows what type of player he is. He always hits shots in the biggest moment. If you look back to his career, from the JV city championship to any close game, he always hits the big shots. Always.”
Boyd explained further.
“I just know when it’s a big game, you’ve got to step up,” he said. “You’ve got to shine (under) the lights.”
Boyd and Williamson’s 3-point shooting was crucial against Simeon (30-4). The Wolverines used a zone defense to beat Thornton, Edwardsville and Bolingbrook leading up to this game. They slowed the opposing team’s best offensive player in each of those games, and forced other players to beat them.
Against Whitney Young (27-7), Simeon wanted to limit junior guard Javon Freeman. They did a good job of that, yet Boyd (17 points) and Williamson came through.
“Justin Boyd went 5-for-10 from 3. I don’t think in two games he scored eight points (against us),” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “Lucas Williamson, he had 19. In two games, he didn’t have 19 total. Those guys stepped up. We were trying to key on Freeman. He only had five points. Other guys stepped up and made plays. During this run, that’s what we had been doing — trying to make other guys step up and make plays. Those guys did it tonight.”
Whitney Young’s wealth of offensive difference-makers was, ultimately, one of the things that made the Dolphins state champions.
“Everyone on this roster is a star. Everybody on this roster does something that makes our team good,” Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said. “Today, guys that may not have been (considered) stars (by Simeon) showed up. That’s what a good basketball team does. It covers for the deficiencies of others. At the end of the day, these guys made the impact. They’re a good basketball team, a good collection of players, great young men and they wanted to win a state championship. And today we sit here as your 2017 state champions.”
THE REBOUNDING BATTLE
A Simeon forward dominated the glass in both of the previous Whitney Young-Simeon games.
In December, senior forward Madison Lowery grabbed 17 rebounds. In the city semifinals, junior forward Messiah Jones had 21 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks. The Dolphins were outrebounded by more than 20 in the teams’ second meeting.
But that was much, much different in the Class 4A state championship game.
Whitney Young didn’t just hold its own on the glass, it out rebounded Simeon 36-29.
That facet of the game proved to be immensely important.
“We knew we had to win the rebounding battle,” Williamson said. “We just got killed on the glass each time. … We won the rebounding battle today. As a result, we won.”
Williamson grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. Freeman finished with six boards, and Boyd had four.
There wasn’t a strategic adjustment that Whitney Young implemented after being significantly outrebounded by Simeon earlier this season.
“Rebounding is just all grit, all toughness,” Williamson said. “It’s a little about getting positioning, but whoever wants it more is going to get rebounds.”
On Saturday night, that team was the Dolphins.
DEFENSE IN THE SECOND HALF AND OVERTIME
Simeon guard Evan Gilyard was rolling in the first half on Saturday night.
He started aggressively, and kept attacking in the second quarter. The UTEP signee scored eight points in the first and second quarters. He had 16 at halftime, and the Wolverines took a 29-22 lead into the break.
Gilyard didn’t score a point in the second half, however.
Whitney Young didn’t change its defensive strategy against Gilyard, he said during a post-game press conference. But the Dolphins managed to slow him down.
Senior guard Craig Beaudion, who’s been one of the best defenders in the Public League all season, was the Dolphin who most frequently defended Gilyard.
He specifically tried to keep the 5-foot-9 point guard from using his dominant left hand, which Gilyard did so effectively in the first half and throughout his excellent high-school career.
“Offensively, I couldn’t get it going,” Beaudion (four points) said. “But as assistant coach (Justin) Bowen told me, ‘If I can’t score, he can’t score.’ … I knew he’s a great player because he scored 16 in the first half … so I had to put that (mentality) in my head — to shut him down.”
Beaudion and his teammates shut down Simeon’s offense in the game’s final 11 minutes.
Whitney Young has a lot of offensive talent. Freeman, junior point guard Xavier Castañeda (eight points, nine assists), Williamson and several others have shined repeatedly this season. But a vital part of why the Dolphins reached the state championship game — and then beat Simeon for the first time this season — was their defense.
“Defense is something we’ve hung our hat on all year,” Slaughter said. “These guys committed to it, and they did a great job.”