DOWNERS GROVE – Downers Grove South senior Kamonte Brown-Poe got the first start of his varsity career Jan. 4.
His assignment was to stop Morton star Latik Murphy.
Talk about throwing someone in the deep end. The 6-foot-3 Murphy came into the West Suburban Conference Gold Division game averaging 25 points a game and has an impressive wingspan and all sorts of athleticism.
Yet Brown-Poe didn’t drown. The 6-2 guard scored only one point, but he held Murphy scoreless until the fourth quarter as the host Mustangs continued their recent run of great play with a 59-53 victory.
“We were watching film and he [Murphy] did pretty good against Hillcrest, so we were just face-guarding him and I had to guard him the whole game,” Brown-Poe said. “I just did what I could do.”
Brown-Poe literally helped take Murphy out of the game. Murphy played only seven minutes over the first three quarters thanks to foul trouble, which began when Brown-Poe took a charge in the early going.
Murphy picked up his second foul midway through the first quarter and sat out the rest of the first half. He picked up two more fouls in the third quarter, leaving after Timmeon Gamble drew a charging foul.
Murphy returned to score nine points in the fourth quarter on a trio of 3-pointers, but it was too late to prevent the Mustangs (10-5, 3-1) from handing Morton (8-6, 2-1) its first league loss.
“[Murphy] is a load and you saw it in the fourth quarter,” Downers South coach Kris Olson said. “Stopping him was just dedication to being disciplined by Kamonte.
“[Brown-Poe] was on him and he was very disciplined in keeping his weight back and staying down. Timmeon took a big charge on [Murphy] and Kamonte had the charge early.”
Brown-Poe, who was injured last year, didn’t play much early in the season, but now has made a name for himself, at least within the team, for his defensive effort. That has led to more playing time.
“In the beginning of the season, Kamonte wasn’t playing much,” Downers South senior Wes Hooker said. “He was trying to find himself.
“But over at the York tournament he was playing good and coming into this game he knew he had to stop Latik because we knew he was a really good player. He had the mindset that he was going to stop him and that’s what he did.”
Morton had balanced scoring. Tamajae Garner tallied 12 points and Tyler Chandler came off the bench to score 10 points in support of Murphy and fellow starters Josiah Porter and Manny Rodriguez, who all finished with nine points.
But they were no match for Downers South’s potent 1-2 punch of Hooker and Justin Eagins, who flourished offensively. Eagins sank four 3-pointers and had a game-high 25 points, while Hooker added 21 points, including two free throws to give the Mustangs their largest lead at 51-40 with 4:26 left in the fourth quarter.
Hooker had a game-high 14 rebounds and four assists, but said the game was won at the defensive end.
“I think we could win most of our games as long as we play defense,” Hooker said. “That’s our mindset.
“We don’t really care about the offensive end because we know that will come because we have scorers. We know as long as we play defense the way we did tonight the offense will come.”
That’s why Downers South looks to players such as Gamble, who had 10 points, and Brown-Poe to do the grunt work. It doesn’t lend itself to gaining a lot of attention, but Brown-Poe is embracing the role.
“I’m not going to score all the time and I’m fine with that as long as we’re winning,” Brown-Poe said. “If I can contribute on defense, I’m fine with that so I try as much as I can.
“Nobody notices it, but my team does, so as long as we’re winning, I don’t really care [about publicity].”
The Red Devils lost to Willowbrook 61-59 on Jan. 5.
The Hornets lost to Leyden 60-56 in overtime on Jan. 4.
The Sentinels beat Wilmington 51-28 on Jan. 4.