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South nips North All-Stars in close contest

The purpose of an all-star game is to have fun.

There was no doubt that the players on the court during the Voyager Media Boys Basketball All-Star Shootout, on Sunday, March 18 at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, had fun. But in the end the South squad had a little more fun. That’s because they rallied to win.

Led by a game-high 25 points from MVP Ryan Saunders from Joliet Central, the South rallied in the second half to come away with a 120-116 victory in the 10th annual event with showcases some of the areas seniors. It was the sixth straight season that the game was held at USF and this was certainly one of the most entertaining.

While not quite as high scoring as the previous seasons 134-122 North win, the game went down to the final minute before the South came away with the win.

“I was not expecting it,” Saunders said of winning the MVP. “We were just out there having fun and it was an exciting game.”

He’s uncommitted to college at this time, but after losing 94-91 in double overtime to Bolingbrook in the Romeoville Sectional semifinal, he and his two teammates certainly liked being in the All-Star game.

His 25 points was the fourth highest individual total for a guy in the All-Star game. Ryan Crow from Plainfield North holds the record with 42 points in 2009. Saunders Steelmen teammates chipped in some too as Cameron Blackmon (7 points) and Don Joachim (6 points) had some key points.

But no one was more key than Saunders. The North led 103-96 when Eddie Creal had an alley-opp slam, one of a few in the game for the Romeoville star, with 7:26 to play.

Paging Dr. Saunders.

The South then went on a 13-2 burst, with Saunders scoring 11 of those points. He capped it off with eight straight points, including a rebound bucket with 3:46 to play for a 109-105 lead.

The North took one last lead at 111-110 on a layup by Romeoville’s Kahlil Blakney with 1:59 left. But Blackmon got a layup and Plainfield North’s Brady Miller mashed a slam for a 114-11 lead. Bolingbrook’s Kaleb Thornton tied it at 114-114 on a 3-pointer. But with just over a minute remaining Joliet West’s Michael Smith hit a free throw and Plainfield Central’s Matthews Morganfield (9 points) followed that with a pair of free throws to put the South ahead for good at 117-114.

After a North miss, Miller got the clincher and capped his basketball career in grand fashion. He grabbed a rebound about 6-feet from the basket, but dribbled back out 15-feet to the left corner. From there he let the shot fly and his game-clinching 3-pointer got nothing but net with 38 seconds to play. Blakney added one last basket 10 seconds later, but the South hung on to win.

“It was a big shot and I had to step up and hit it,” Miller said of the 3-pointer. “It was just awesome and fun to play with these guys. As the game wound down, the intensity went up.”

Miller scored 14 points in the game, which will be his last organized basketball one. A three-sport standout, including being quarterback of the football team, he will continue his college career as a pitcher at at Western Michigan.

“I’m going to miss it a lot ,” Miller said of basketball. “But I’m looking forward to an awesome baseball career at Western Michigan.”

Lockport’s Deondre Cooper (4 points) and a trio of players from Minooka - twins Keegan (3 points) and Kyle (2 points) Graebner, along with Brandon Hill (11 points). Charles McKinney (19 points) led four players from Joliet West that wee on the South team. The others were Smith (7 points) along with Derron Williams (7 points) and Darren Williams (6 points).

Early on in the game, the North team jumped out to leads of 6-0 and 11-2. The South squad rallied to lead 25-19, but a 22-6 spurt put the North ahead 41-31 and it extended to a 71-57 halftime lead.

Creal led the North team with 24 points and his teammate - Blakney, added 12 points. Bolingbrook had a trio of players in uniform for the game and they all contributed big by combining for 43 points for the North team. Thornton, who missed a few weeks in the season with a had injury, made sure his last high school game was a good one with 17 points.

“All star games are always the best,” Thornton said. “Everyone gets to show off a little flare. For us, this is the last time we will put on our high school jersey and it means a lot for you guys to do this for us.”

Joey Saracco (14 points) and Isaiah Clemons (12 points) also scored for the Raiders.

Mychale Hyland was the long-range specialist as he drained four 3-pointers and had 14 points for the North team.

“I had fun getting the jersey on one more time and showing out,” Hyland said.

His Downers Grove North teammate - Jake Rozema, added six points. Benet had two players - Jacob Petrovic (5 points) and David Buh (4 points) score. Clyde Singleton (4 points) represented Niles West and Devin Tincu (4 points) represented Lisle.

“This is a lot of fun,” Tincu said. “It is a no pressure game and a completely different environment from the season.”


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