Bloom puts a real scare into SimeonLejavius Johnson shoots one of the many Bloom shots taken from the outside. Patrick Gleason ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 17, 2012 8:01PM
PEORIA, Ill. — If Bloom had any chance Friday at pulling off one of the biggest upsets in state basketball history, it truly had to believe in its heart of hearts it was capable of slaying the Goliath known as Simeon.
Saying it is one thing. Believing it is quite another.
Simeon had defeated 17 of 32 opponents by 20 points or more; nine by at least 30, including victory margins of 56 and 67 points.
Simeon doesn’t gauge success by conference titles or 20-win seasons, but by state championships.
The Wolverines have won four state titles in the past six years — two in the more competitive two-class system (2006, ’07) and two in the watered down four-class system (2010, ’11).
Which is why, despite its impressive 28-3 record, Bloom was a bigger underdog than Pizza Hut in a national best-tasting pie contest.
But listening to Bloom prior to the 9 p.m. Class 4A semifinal tip-off, there was no doubt it certainly believed — no ifs, ands or buts about it.
The Blazing Trojans were going to shock the world.
When L.J. Johnson converted a three-pointer with 2:36 remaining in the first half, it gave Bloom an 18-17 lead.
If the Blazing Trojans could produce a similar effort over the final 18 minutes and change, their improbable Buster Douglas-beating-Mike Tyson upset would be complete.
But considerable damage can be done in 18 minutes on the basketball court.
Of course Simeon mounted a rally, opening up an eight-point lead — 30-22 — with 4:09 to go in game.
But there was no fat lady singing inside Carver Arena. She wasn’t even humming.
Bloom, bless it collective heart, wouldn’t go down quietly.
Donald Moore stepped up and canned a three-pointer with 2:26 remaining, cutting the Simeon lead to 36-34.
All the Blazing Trojans needed was a defensive stop.
Instead, all-world Jabari Parker, mostly held silent by a magnificent defensive effort by Johnny Griffin, produced a three-point play that pushed the lead to 39-34 with 1:58 to go.
The Blazing Trojans put a serious scare into the Wolverines before falling 45-35 in a Class 4A semifinal at Carver Arena.
Simeon coach Robert Smith didn’t blame the officials, the larger court or the fact his players possibly could have been looking ahead to a much-anticipated date with Proviso East in the 4A championship Saturday night.
The man gave Bloom serious props.
“Give Bloom a lot of credit,” Smith said. “They pushed us all the way to the limit. They out-toughed us. My aspect, we should have lost the game.”
Talk about a tough luck of the draw. Here’s tradition-rich Bloom, which hadn’t been to the Final Four in 37 years, and its reward is a 4A semifinal date with 31-1 Simeon, regarded as the best team in the state and one of the best in the country.
Yes, the basketball gods have a strange sense of humor.
“I knew that before the game that we could play with them,” Johnson said when asked when he realized Simeon was beatable. “I had no doubts. It’s real disappointing to lose this game. But we gave it our best.”
And their best was nearly good enough.