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12/29/12 Hillside-Morgan Parks Kyle Davis shoots over Stevenson. Stacia Timonere/for Sun Times Media
Last year’s Proviso West Holiday tournament was a nightmare Josh Cunningham was desperate to forget. “I wanted to come out here and make a statement about what I could actually do,” the gifted 6-7 Morgan Park wing forward said.
Cunningham posted a double-double and scored seven of his team-high 11 points during a decisive first quarter performance as the No. 3 Mustangs cruised past Stevenson 67-52 in a tournament semifinal Saturday in Hillside.
The Mustangs (12-1) advance to meet No. 5 and defending tournament champion Proviso East Monday at 4 p.m. for the tournament championship.
“Josh Cunningham is the second best player in his class in Illinois behind [Young’s] Jahlil Okafor,” Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said.
Cunningham turned the first quarter into a startling exhibition of his skill. He scored on a spectacular offensive rebound, nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key added another layup as the Mustangs ran out to a 20-6 first quarter advantage.
“I wasn’t very happy with how I’d been shooting, and I wanted to hit a three,” he said. “Nick [Morgan Park coach Irvin] said I was a lot bigger than them and I had to crash the boards.”
Cunningham snared five offensive rebounds in adding 10 rebounds. Junior forward Lemont Walker added 10 points and five rebounds. His harrassing defense on Stevenson sophomore star guard Jalen Brunson was critical in the Mustangs’ early dominance.
“They have very good perimeter defenders,” Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. “They really get after you and stick in your grille. I don’t know which was worst about the first quarter, eithem giving them 20 or us just scoring six. We couldn’t afford to get behind like that.”
Brunson scored 17 points but he shot just 4-for-11 from the floor and the aggressive, trapping Morgan Park forced him into committing seven turnovers. “Our philsophy, defensively, is always to go after the other team’s best player,” Irvin said. “It’s not that we’re trying to stop him from scoring, but we just want him to really have to work for it.
“Brunson’s a good player, but have great perimeter defenders like Lamont Walker and Torry Johnson and then we have Markee Williams pressuring the ball.”
Brunson was the only Patriots’ player to score in the first quarter. Stevenson (10-3) shot just 5-for-18 on three-pointers.“We came out pretty soft on defense, and we just couldn’t really afford to do that,” Brunson said.
“Morgan Park’s a great team. They’re very well coached and they’re very enthusiastic and they come out and really get after it,” he said.
Irvin emphasized the Mustangs jumping out to a fast start after they have started slowly in earlier games in the tournament. “This was the first game where we really started out well,” he said. “I told them before the game, let’s get out to a fast start and then get some rest.”
Morgan Park’s depth and versatility just overwhelmed the Patriots. Nine different players scored.
The stage is now set for the matchup many predicted before the tournament started. “I know Paris Lee and Sterling Brown from the club team circuit, and Proviso East’s a great team,” Irvin said. “It should be a fun game.”