WEB EXCLUSIVE: Sages set for matchup against high-powered Chicago Orr

More than 36 hours have passed since the Monticello boys' basketball team returned home behind the escort of flashing lights and blaring sirens of a fire truck.

If the players, coaches and fans haven't yet come down off the high of a last-second super-sectional upset, they better hurry. The clock is ticking toward a new challenge.

The Sages will hit the floor of Carver Arena in Peoria at 7:15 p.m. Friday night.

Tick tock, Monticello.

"We're going to be starry-eyed," head coach Kevin Roy said of his players stepping out onto the court at the state tournament for the first time in program history. "We're just going to try to keep our guys tuned in and focused."

This Sages' run in the postseason was nearly halted before it picked up steam. It took a buzzer-beater by Johnny Dawson against conference rival Unity in the regional semifinal for Monticello to advance after its first postseason game.

Three close games (out of four wins) and multiple big shots later, here they are: two wins away from a state title.

"It's fun to see everyone rally around the student body and community," Roy said. "It's been a great experience.

"It's been fun, but we're still trying to stay focused and prepare for another game."

Up next on the Sages' chopping block is Chicago Orr. From the public high school boasting 376 students on the west side of Chicago, the Spartans will play in Peoria for the third time in five years under head coach Louis Adams.

Orr placed third in 2014 and fourth in 2013.

"We play a very tough brand of basketball," Adams said. "We're really tough on the defensive end."

The Spartans boast high-level athleticism at every position. Junior forward Raekwon Drake is a 6-foot-5 high flyer who often plays above the rim, but lately Orr has been led by 6-5 junior Dannie Smith who just began playing organized basketball two years ago.

Smith scored 25 points in his team's 72-34 win against Collins in a Class 2A super-sectional.

"I think we have a lot of Division 1 guys on this team," Adams said.

"We're right up there with all of the Chicago teams (regardless of class)."

Orr will press full court and attempt to speed the tempo up Friday. Monticello has faced teams that press this postseason - Argenta-Oreana in the regional championship and, of course, QND in the super-sectional – but not with the combination of athleticism the Spartans display up and down the lineup.

"To help prepare for them, we'll put seven or eight defenders on the floor," Roy said. "We'll play five on eight in practice and try to make it as chaotic as possible.

"Orr is a lot quicker, a lot more physical and a lot more aggressive (than Quincy Notre Dame). It remains to be seen how we will handle that. We did a nice job with it (Tuesday) night. I think we could have done better, but Orr is going to be a completely different level."

A very fitting challenge for a Monticello team competing at the state level for the first time.


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