Rolling Meadows edges Fenton to win 2nd straight Chuck Mitchell title
Rolling Meadows is on a mission this season to prove they're a team to be reckoned with.
That was apparent from the opening tip Saturday night in the championship game of the 35th annual Fenton Chuck Mitchell Thanksgiving Tournament.
The Mustangs held off the host Bison to win 44-39, surviving a stirring late game rally by the host school to win their second consecutive tourney title.
Meadows lost some talented players to graduation over the summer, including star guard Cameron Christie, who moved on to play for the University of Minnesota.
Now this year's Mustangs are out to show they still belong in the conversation of the state's top teams.
"A lot of people are coming out and saying that we're missing so many starters from last year, that so much has changed," said 6-foot-7 Meadows junior Ian Miletic, who was voted tournament MVP. "Now the younger players have to step up, and I really feel like we've all stepped up to the plate.
"We've come out in every game so far, played hard, played together, communicated together, and battled through some tough situations."
Miletic scored a game-high 15 points, while classmate Jack Duffer added 13.
"We lost about 80% of our scoring from last season," said Duffer, "but still I think we're highly underrated.
"To come out here to someone's home court and win just shows how tough we are and how well-rounded we are."
It was a difficult loss for Fenton, which stayed right with Meadows most of the way and had a chance to pull it out at the end.
This was the eighth time in the history of the invite that the Bison have finished second, the last time being in the 2015 season.
"We've just got to keep doing what we do," said Fenton coach Chaz Taft, who's team is now 3-1 on the year. "Keep working our offense, keep working our defense."
Taft admitted that it was a challenge going up against the taller Mustangs, who owned a sizable advantage on the boards in the contest.
"Their length was a little bit of a problem for us," said Taft, "but I thought we did a good job of getting in the lanes and kicking out for open shots. We've just got to start making those open shots."
Meadows (4-0) ran out to a 12-6 advantage after one stanza. behind the 3-point shooting of Duffer and another Mustangs junior, 6-6 Lazar Lazarevic.
They increased the lead to 23-15 at halftime, but Fenton senior Xavior Gonzalez led a Bison charge in the third quarter that saw the home team close within 2.
The Mustangs were able to extend the lead, then Duffer gave his team a big spark at the third period buzzer.
Duffer's off-balance 12-footer in the lane bounced high off the back of the rim, then swished through to put his team ahead 34-27 going into the final 8 minutes.
"That was a big momentum swing," said Duffer. "Then we were able to come out at the beginning of the fourth quarter and get a big defensive stop."
A steal by Lazarevic then a bucket from Miletic pushed the Mustangs' advantage to 36-27, but the Bison rallied.
Gonzalez, Alejandro Diaz, and Brandon Block all hit 3s to bring Fenton back, and the Bison trailed just 42-38 when Gonzalez was fouled on a 3-point attempt with just 2 seconds left.
Gonzalez, who played a terrific all-around game, hit his first free throw but his next 2 attempts just rimmed out.
"It gave me a little sigh of relief when he didn't hit that second one," said Miletic. "That meant they couldn't get a tip-in to tie it up, so we were in a much better position."
Miletic was fouled on the rebound and made two foul shots to close out the game.
Miletic led the way on the boards for the winners with 13 rebounds, while Gonzalez and Diaz each scored 13 points for Fenton.
"We showed a lot of grit tonight," said Miletic. "I think that was the key. Our coaches put in a great game plan for us, and we knew they (Fenton) were going to be tough and not give in. It was going to be a possession-to-possession game, and we just battled and trusted in each other.
"We lost a lot of talent from last year, but this year we have that dog mentality, diving on the floor for loose balls and things like that."
In earlier action Saturday, Evanston won third place with a 47-41 victory over Fremd.
Wheaton Warrenville South took fifth with a 61-38 win over Willowbrook, while Montini claimed seventh place with a 55-16 triumph over Clemente.