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Joliet West players celebrate winning the Tiger Thanksgiving Classic championship. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Joliet West and Bolingbrook will spend the next three months using their tough SouthWest Suburban Blue schedules to get ready for the state tournament.
The two teams spent Thanksgiving week on a collision course in Joliet West’s tournament and the early psychological advantage goes to the Tigers after their 63-56 victory Saturday night in the championship of the 3-year-old event.
“This means a whole lot,’’ Joliet West’s Morris Dunnigan said. “The past three years, we haven’t got to play in this first-place game, never even got the chance. It means a lot.’’
Dunnigan means everything to Joliet West. The senior point guard scored 13 of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter when West outscored Bolingbrook 22-16.
“Morris Dunnigan is a great high school basketball player,’’ Joliet West coach Luke Yaklich said. “He has worked so hard to come back from the ACL injury his sophomore year. Finally, he’s back to 100 percent.’’
“Rebounding and running,’’ Dunnigan said when asked what gave West (4-0) the edge. “We run a lot. We had more agility than them. They were getting tired.’’
Not Dunnigan. He hit a three-pointer early in the final quarter and then got inside for three baskets, including a driving layup to give West a 56-50 lead with 1 minute, 35 seconds to play. Dunnigan then made four free throws in the final minute.
“He put us on his back there and led us the whole way,’’ Yaklich said. “When he plays well, we’re going to always play well. That’s the bottom line. That’s the pressure of being the best player.’’
The game was close from beginning to end, tied 15-all after the first quarter and 28-all at halftime. West led 41-40 going into the final period.
A driving layup by Brandon McCullum put West ahead for good 52-50 before two free throws by Carl Terrell (17 points) made it 54-50. McCullum then had a key steal before Dunnigan’s basket raised the lead to 56-50.
“I’ve coached 14 years and I’ve never coached a tougher kid than Brandon McCullum,’’ Yaklich said. “He’s the most mentally and physically tough kid I’ve ever coached.’’
Bolingbrook (3-1) was led by Kendall Guyton (20 points) and Ben Moore (16). Part of the Raiders’ downfall was going 18-of-34 from the free-throw line.
“There’s no excuses. They beat us,’’ Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost said. “They played better than us down the stretch. They deserved to win.’’
“This is only one battle of three against Bolingbrook,’’ Yaklich said. “They have a great team. It’s going to be a different game the next two.’’
West opens its conference season Friday against defending champion Homewood-Flossmoor.
“This gives us a boost because we already played one of the best teams in our conference,’’ Dunnigan said of beating Bolingbrook.