Boys Basketball: Aaron Simpson closes it out for North Chicago vs LanphierNorth Chicago's bench explodes after they score a free throw to give them a comfertable lead over Lamphier. Patrick Gleason ~ For the Sun-Times
PEORIA — Aaron Simpson’s shot wasn’t falling at the worst possible time for North Chicago. The high-octane, quick trigger superstar couldn’t get a thing to land for most of the Class 3A state semifinal against Springfield Lanphier on Friday.
But when it mattered most, Simpson rose to the occasion. With the score tied and five minutes to play, he scored seven consecutive points to give the Warhawks a cushion and his teammates did the rest in the final minutes as North Chicago knocked off the Lions 74-67 and earned a spot in the state championship game.
Simpson, an Illinois State recruit, shot just 4-for-19 from the field but managed to get to the line for 14 free throws and made 12, finishing with 22 points and six assists.
“That’s been my focus the whole playoffs, to get to the free throw line,” Simpson said.
The Lions led by one with just over two minutes to play, but North Chicago closed the game with an 8-0 run.
Lanphier blitzed North Chicago in the first half, surprising the Warhawks with their speed to lead 45-34 at the break.
“They were just as quick as we were,” said North Chicago coach Gerald Coleman.
Lanphier went cold in the third quarter and the Warhawks took advantage, using a 21-3 run to take a seven point lead.
“We switched to the zone defense and that gave them some trouble in the second half,” Coleman said. North Chicago’s massive rebounding edge gave Lanphier the most trouble. Every Warhawks player seems to crash the boards with passion. North Chicago outrebounded the Lions 45-38. Sophomore Kurt Hall had 12 and Kevante Curry grabbed 16.
“We go into the game thinking we are going to miss every shot we shoot,” Coleman said.
Curry finished with 17 points and sophomore JaVairius Amos-Mays added 13. Hall scored 11.
Larry Austin led Lanphier (28-4) with 19 points and TJ Davis added 18 points and five assists off the bench.
“We’re proud to be in this position for our school and our town,” Coleman said. “We want to be the first team from our county to win the state championship.”
North Chicago (25-6) finished fourth in the state last season, losing both games in Peoria. The Warhawks will face the winner of the Hillcrest vs. Peoria Central semifinal in the state championship on Saturday.