PEORIA -- The past few seasons, the winner of the IHSA boys basketball Class 4A state championship required a superstar talent. Simeon won with Jabari Parker for four consecutive years, Whitney Young made a run with Jahlil Okafor and Stevenson won last season behind Jalen Brunson. All three of those players were McDonald's All-Americans and Parker and Okafor are already playing in the NBA.
Curie didn't have an All-American on its roster entering Saturday night's clash with Benet, but senior point guard Devin Gage played like a star in the Condors' 65-59 state-title win over Benet at Carver Arena.
The boys basketball state title is the first for Curie.
Gage, a DePaul commit and four-year varsity starter, finished the game with 23 points as he took over the game in the third quarter, making back-to-back 3-pointers to give Curie a 39-34 lead entering the final frame.
From there, Curie (28-5) kept the momentum going. The Condors jumped out to a 49-34 lead early in the fourth as Gage pumped in another wing 3-pointer to cap a 19-0 run that left Benet scoreless for nearly nine minutes.
"I'm more than excited; I'm speechless. It's crazy, we've finally got a state title," Gage said. "I've always been confident shooting the ball, I guess tonight I was feeling it."
Traevon Martin also had a breakout performance for the Condors as the skinny 6-foot-7 sophomore post player went for 10 points and 14 rebounds. Martin's length was also a problem for Benet's offense at the rim as he altered numerous shot attempts near the basket. Sophomore Landers Nolley II and junior Elijah Joiner scored 10 points each for Curie.
Benet (31-4) came out shooting hot in the first half, but slowed down when Curie started pressuring them the length of the floor. Senior James Dockery led the Redwings with 14 points. Senior Dan Sobolewski finished with 12 points while junior Jack Nolan had 11 points before fouling out. Benet was 11-for-26 from 3-point range for the game, but slowed down significantly after a 5-for-10 start.
The Redwings made an unlikely run to the state title game as they didn't have a single player with a Division I scholarship offer. But Benet still won 31 games this season and knocked off Simeon in a major upset in the state semifinals. During the season they beat Fenwick and won a very difficult ESCC. Nobody on Benet will make the All-Area team -- and Dockery, the team's leading scorer, only averaged around 12 points per game -- but they were one of the most balanced teams in the area in recent memory.
As for Curie, this is a special title for the program after the Condors had to deal with the IHSA mess and first-round state tournament exit two seasons ago with Cliff Alexander. Even after Alexander left for Kansas -- and eventually, the NBA -- the Condors have remained a top-flight program under head coach Mike Oliver and now the veteran coach has his first state title. Curie overcame forfeiting the Public League Playoff title in 2014 and are stronger than ever as a program.
"I'm blessed," Gage said. "I appreciate my teammates and I appreciate my coaches. We went through a lot to get here."
While many have associated Chicago Public League basketball with former state champions like Simeon, Morgan Park, Whitney Young and North Lawndale, the Condors can now also claim a state title in the last decade. The state-title win on Saturday cemented Curie as one of the Chicagoland area's most notable programs as the Public League continues a streak of having a state basketball champion every year since 2006.
"I feel now that I'm with the big boys of Whitney Young and Simeon and Morgan Park and them," Oliver said. "So this feels very good. I told them we could make history if we stick together and we had a good team. The kids stayed together and followed through with it."