By Jon DePaolis
The Class 4A Proviso West Sectional title came down to one shot — and the player who took it wasn’t even the one for whom the play was designed.
But with Curie trailing Whitney Young by one point, Condors senior Damari Nixon received a pass from Trevor Hamilton and drained a 3-pointer from the right corner to give the state’s top-ranked team the 53-51 victory over the Dolphins on March 8 in Hillside.
“It was designed to get [Hamilton] going to the basket,” Nixon said. “But once I knew they were collapsing, I knew that it was money before I even released it.”
Nixon (7 points, three rebounds) said all he was thinking about when he received the pass was “just to make a play for my team.” The game-winning bucket came on the biggest shot he’s ever taken, he added.
Young had just recaptured the lead – which it had held for the entire first half and most of the third quarter. With 20 seconds left in the game, Dolphins senior forward Sangolay Njie (10 points, four rebounds) grabbed the rebound of his own miss underneath the rim and put away the second-chance bucket to give his team a 51-50 lead.
On the ensuing possession, Curie senior Dajuan Gordon — who was in foul trouble early but thundered back in the second half to finish with 11 points and six rebounds — drove to his left toward the hoop but was tripped up. The foul stopped the clock at 7.4 seconds, and Curie called timeout.
“They had three fouls to give, so we thought they were going to foul,” Curie coach Michael Oliver said of his thought process coming out of the timeout. “But we told [our guys] that if they didn’t try to foul, we were going to drive it to the basket and then kick. Nixon was wide open. It was a great pass by Trevon [Hamilton].
“That was a hell of a shot. That’s what he’s been doing for us all year — making big shots.”
Young’s subsequent inbounds pass was low and trickled out of bounds, ending the game and sending a flurry of players and coaches from Curie onto the court to celebrate the sectional title.
For the Curie players and coaches, the win was extra sweet considering Young knocked them out of the postseason last year in the sectional final — 80-73 in overtime.
“It means everything,” Nixon said of winning the title this year.
His coach agreed.
“We lost to them last year in a similar [way],” Oliver said. “They hit a three to send it into overtime.
“So I talked to [Young coach] Tyrone Slaughter earlier in the week, and I told him it was our year to win. We’ve been going back and forth the last four or five years. It worked out for us.”
Early on, it looked like Young might take home another sectional title. In the first half, buoyed by the efforts of junior DJ Steward (20 points) and senior Myles Baker (12 points), the Dolphins led by as many as nine points.
Oliver said energy was biggest difference for the Condors in making the comeback.
“The guys wanted to win, and I told them we had to get on the glass,” Oliver said. “Our shots were just not going in. But we’ve got to get a second opportunity. Ramean [Hinton] and Justin Harmon got on the boards … and our guys just persevered and wanted to win.”
The Condors dominated the glass in the second half, out-rebounding the Dolphins 19-9 by the end of the game.
“We came out with more intensity,” Nixon said of the second half. “We realized that they went out and punched us in the face in the first quarter in playing really well, and so we just wanted to lock down our defense and stop them from getting points.
“Most of their points were coming from fast break, because we weren’t getting back on defense and for not boxing out. Basically, if we could just limit their possessions and make our [offensive] looks, [we’d] be fine.”
Leading the way for the Condors in scoring was senior Justin Harmon (16 points), Ramean Hinton (11 points, five rebounds) and Gordon.
With the win, Curie improved to 32-1. The Condors played Simeon in the Class 4A Evanston Super-Sectional on Tuesday, March 12, at Northwestern University.