PEORIA -- Morgan Park head coach Nick Irvin brought his entire team with him to the press conference podium after claiming a second consecutive IHSA Class 3A state championship.
Irvin and the Mustangs have claimed four boys basketball state titles over the past six years. The quotable Irvin is usually only flanked by his starting five.
Even though Morgan Park had a clear star and leader in senior guard and Player of the Year candidate Ayo Dosunmu, the Mustangs needed every member of their roster to make it back to Peoria during an injury-ravaged season.
Morgan Park needed its reinforcements to make it back to the state finals. Dosunmu took care of the rest. The Illinois commit led Morgan Park's back-to-back quest with a Class 3A state title game record 28 points as the Mustangs earned a 71-56 win over Springfield Southeast on Saturday afternoon.
Although Morgan Park won a Class 3A title with Dosunmu on the roster last season, the Illinois commit wasn't able to play much during the final weekend in the state tournament after suffering a injury to his right foot that forced him to be on crutches for most of the weekend.
This time in Peoria, a healthy Dosunmu carried Morgan Park with an impressive game in front of his future head coach, Brad Underwood. Dosunmu's eight-point flurry to end the third quarter -- including a half-court buzzer-beater -- lifted the Mustangs to a 54-45 advantage entering the fourth quarter. From there, Morgan Park maintained a comfortable advantage as Dosunmu and his teammates held off the feisty Spartans.
"I told myself, once I got hurt, that it felt good for my team to win it. But I wanted to come back and be apart of it and actually be on the court," Dosunmu said.
"I just wanted to come back and redeem myself after getting hurt last year. I knew what I could do. I think I stopped the haters from saying that I couldn't win the big game."
Dosunmu did the heavy lifting for Morgan Park in the state title game. But the Mustangs needed all hands on deck during a tumultuous regular season. Morgan Park was viewed in the preseason as one of the major forces in the Chicago Public League. Injuries to seniors like Dosunmu and big man Tamell Pearson, a UAB commit, meant that the Mustangs had to change all of their plans.
Dosunmu missed 10 games with injury this season. Pearson only played in four games the entire season after multiple surgeries on his eye. That meant others like senior Cam Burrell and sophomores Adam Miller and Marcus Watson had to step up their play.
Morgan Park didn't make a lot of noise during conference play in the Public League Red South/Central. They were eliminated during the quarterfinals of the Public League Playoffs by Whitney Young. Morgan Park hadn't lost this much since Irvin's first season on the job 10 years ago.
But there was still the hope that a healthy Morgan Park could figure things out and make another run at a Class 3A state title. Once Dosunmu got rolling, the Mustangs gained a new confidence to claim another trophy.
"Absolutely, the toughest one," Irvin said of the title run. "At the end of the day I knew these guys were loyal to me. I knew they'd run through a brick wall for me. And I just had to get myself level-headed. I'm used to winning and beating everybody -- or close to it. Taking tough losses was a bit of an adjustment."
Morgan Park winning another title this season is a testament to how talented, and deep, the Mustangs have been the last two seasons. Even with teams not at full strength during the state playoffs the past two years, Morgan Park still managed to win back-to-back titles.
With five trips to Peoria in six seasons, and a roster still filled with young talent, Morgan Park should remain a major contender for years to come -- even with Burrell, Dosunmu, Pearson and the senior class moving on to the next level.
Miller has the look of a potential Player of the Year candidate. Watson played with a ton of confidence down the stretch. More promising young players are also in the pipeline in the rest of the program.
“Three-peat. Three-peat; that’s the goal,” Irvin said. “We’re going to come back home to Peoria next season — hopefully. I’m gonna be on Marcus, and Adam and Kyel (Grover) and just see what we can.”