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Morgan Park teammates celebrate together after claiming the 3A title over Cahokia. | Patrick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media
PEORIA — Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin is close with most of his players, but his relationship with senior center Xzavier Taylor is a little different.
“We are like father and son,” Taylor said. “I would do anything for him. I think I’ve made him extremely happy now. This should last for a couple of years.”
Taylor played the best game of his career at exactly the most important moment. The 6-9 senior scored 11 points and grabbed 12 rebounds off the bench to lead the Mustangs to a 63-48 win over Cahokia in the Class 3A state championship game at Saturday Carver Arena.
“I’m proud of Xzavier the most,” Irvin said. “He stepped up. We’ve been waiting for big fella to roll all year. I’m proud of him, he really set the tone today.”
Unlike most of the seniors playing in the state finals, Taylor still hasn’t finalized his college plans.
“That’s been on my mind all weekend,” Taylor said. “I knew there would be a lot of college coaches watching and I had to show them what I could do, that I could rebound and block out.”
Morgan Park (33-3) won the game in the paint. The Mustangs dominated the boards, outrebounding Cahokia 43-26. The Comanches didn’t have an offensive rebound in the first half.
Senior guards Billy Garrett Jr., Kyle Davis and Markee Williams guided the Mustangs through the state tournament. Garrett, a DePaul recruit, scored 14 and dished out five assists in the title game. Davis, a Dayton recruit, added 10 points and Williams scored 13.
“I trust [any of my players] at any given moment,” Irvin said. “If kids think you believe in them they will go through a wall for you.”
Davis fell to the floor hard after driving to the basket in the fourth quarter and had his wrist heavily iced after the game.
“[Davis] is the guy I call the iron man,” Irvin said. “He will run through anything.”
Cahokia (33-4) pulled within five points with 2:01 to play in the third quarter, but Morgan Park responded with a 14-0 run to put the game away.
“We came out and played hard, but on the offensive glass and defensive glass we didn’t do too good,” Cahokia all-state guard Keenan Minor said.
Vincent Jackson Jr. and Carleton Rivers each scored nine points for Cahokia. Minor and Darius Austin added eight points apiece.
Morgan Park won the Class AA state title in 1976 and finished third in 2001. Garrett Jr. and Williams were starters on the Morgan Park team that won the city title in 2010.
“Nick threw me in the fire at a young age,” Garrett Jr. said. “I learned so much about how to run a team, how to be a leader. I don’t think I would be the player I am without that.”
Morgan Park lost to Simeon in the regular season and then beat the Wolverines in February in the city tournament.
“We are the No. 1 team in the state of Illinois,” Irvin said. “We are the best team on Vincennes.”