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Morgan Park’s battle-tested starting five returned from suspension in time for their Chicago Elite Classic showdown with the Vashon Wolverines on Saturday, but it wasn’t enough to stop the dynamic duo of Mario McKinney and Cam’Ron Fletcher, as the Mustangs fell 75-62 in their showcase game at Wintrust Arena.
Vashon opened the game on a 19-6 run and never looked back, relying heavily on Fletcher’s 26 points and 13 rebounds, and McKinney’s 18 points and four rebounds.
Morgan Park head coach Nick Irvin knew containing Fletcher would be a collective responsibility, but Fletcher and McKinney combined for 18 of Vashon’s 27 points in the first quarter.
“You just gotta make them work and get back in transition,” Irvin said. “But (Fletcher) played like a Top 10 player in the country… They just got out on us. We’ll be fine.”
Despite the uphill climb Morgan Park faced, Irvin was encouraged by some signs of progress, including the hustle his undersized team displayed by out-rebounding Vashon for most of the contest.
“We rebounded it pretty well, but they’ve got big guys, you know, and we’re 6-5, 6-6 across the line,” Irvin said. “Their second jump was quicker than our first jump later in the game. It comes with the territory. If I had a little more time in practice this week, I would have been fine.”
Having the trio of Adam Miller (14 points, 5 rebounds), Shawn Washington (14 points, 9 rebounds) and Marcus Watson (15 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) scoring in double figures was another bright spot for Morgan Park.
Facing an elite prospect like Fletcher was a challenge that Irvin wanted his players to get up for. Struggling in December, even if it means allowing a few crowd-pleasing uncontested dunks – and learning from it in February and March – is exactly what Irvin and his assistants are after this time of year.
“You could take a lot from this game,” Irvin said. “They’re a good ballclub. They’re athletic, they’ve got everything a good team has. This is going to help us down the road when we gear up to win our, or my, fifth state championship. This is going to help us.”
Morgan Park clawed back to narrow the margin to 44-38 at half. The Mustangs drew within five points in the fourth quarter, but an ice-cold shooting performance in the second half prevented them from completing a comeback that was ignited in part by their renewed defensive intensity.
“I feel a little better about how we played in the second half,” Irvin said. “But I’m still waiting for us to play Morgan Park basketball.”
Ultimately, Miller helped to put the loss in perspective on a night in which several other elite programs suffered tough defeats on the Wintrust Arena floor.
“There’s always going to a be a team that’s going to be bigger than you and faster than you, to show you what’s out there,” Miller said. “You can’t come into every game thinking we’re going to be everybody. Nah, it doesn’t work like that. You see even Duke can lose. If you want to win a championship, you’ve got to fight through adversity… it depends on how you come through at the end.”
Morgan Park’s next game is Tuesday, Dec. 11th at Mt. Carmel.