Classic high school basketball game rewatch: Thornton shocks Kevin Garnett, Ronnie Fields and top-ranked Farragut (1995)

Classic high school basketball game rewatch: Thornton shocks
Kevin Garnett, Ronnie Fields and top-ranked Farragut (1995) 1

Welcome to the worst winter imaginable for Illinois high school basketball fans. COVID-19 has forced the state into empty gyms. There aren’t any games or scores or rankings to debate.

Faced with that vast void over the next several months, the Sun-Times is springing into action with a couple regular features.

Once a week I’ll be watching an classic IHSA state game on the IHSA’s YouTube archive. I’ll write a little on it and then I’ll include the original game story from the Sun-Times.

Watch along with me and get your fix of high school basketball (as best we can) this winter.

First up in our Thursday Throwback watch is one of the games high school basketball fans still talk about: the Class AA quarterfinal game between Farragut and Thornton in 1995.

Farragut had Kevin Garnett, the top-ranked player in the country, and high-flying Ronnie Fields. There hasn’t been a team in the state with more hype since that Admirals squad. They ran into a south suburban powerhouse that had flown a bit under the radar.

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Dan Roan and Kenny McReynolds called the game. Roan gave viewers a wise heads-up in the opening: “Farragut, by the experts, should dominate this game. I’m not sure it is going to be that one-sided.”

He was right. Thornton pulled off the upset. I was at the game as a fan. Tai Streets’ dunk in the second quarter is one of the great state memories I have as a fan.

The starting lineups:

Thornton
F James Johnson (42), 6-5 Sr.
F Tai Streets (34), 6-4, Sr.
C Melvin Ely (33), 6-8 So.
G Erik Herring (44), 6-4 So.
G Chauncey Jones (10) 6-0 Sr.

Farragut
F Michael Wright (42), 6-8 Fr.
F Ronnie Fields (23), 6-3 Jr.
C Kevin Garnett (34), 6-11 Sr.
G Jamel Rome (11), 6-1 Fr.
G Frank Smith (21), 5-9 Sr.

It’s worth pointing out that the best players on both teams were transfers. Garnett arrived in Chicago from South Carolina in August and Streets attended Rich South his first three years of high school.

Farragut missed its Thursday shoot around in Champaign. Admirals coach William Nelson said his principal thought the shoot around was on Friday, the day of the game. Nelson, who is still Farragut’s coach, was just a second-year head coach and had never coached at state before.

McReynolds detailed Garnett’s college list before the game. Garnett, who wound up going straight to the NBA, said he was down to Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, Syracuse, Illinois and Arkansas.

“But [Garnett’s mother] wants him to stay in Chicago,” McReynolds said. “Fields told me tonight we are definitely going to school together. Fields loves DePaul. They are going to DePaul folks. Garnett and Fields will be Blue Demons.”

Farragut trailed by one point with 2:30 to play. Coming out of the timeout Garnett turned to the scorers table and said “watch this.”

It was worth watching, but not the way Garnett expected. Fields missed a three with 20 seconds to play that would have given Farragut the lead. Garnett missed a three with five seconds left that would have tied the game. That was the final shot of the game.

Watch it all and read Mark Potash’s game story below:

BY MARK POTASH

CHAMPAIGN — They said it wasn’t an upset, but the sea of purple that engulfed the Assembly Hall floor when it was all over said it was.

This was big.

Like so many other teams have this season, Thornton came in thinking it could beat Farragut, only the Wildcats pulled it off.

Shutting down 6-11 Kevin Garnett with an aggressive game plan, Thornton held on Friday night for a 46-43 victory over the top-ranked Admirals before a crowd of 12,229 in the Class AA quarterfinals.

Sophomore Erik Herring scored seven of his 10 points in the fourth quarter and added a key steal in the final 30 seconds and Chauncey Jones (16 points) hit a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left as Thornton (29-1) advanced to today’s 12:45 p.m. semifinal against Rock Island (27-4).

“This will go down in history. I’m glad to be a part of it,” said Jones, who had missed five consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter before hitting the two that gave Thornton a 46-43 lead. “We came in here with something to prove. Everybody wrote us off, saying we couldn’t beat this team.”

With 6-8 sophomore Melvin Ely spearheading a team effort, Thornton hounded Garnett (17 rebounds, six blocks, one assist) into a 6-of-17 shooting night, holding the All-America center to 17 points. With Ronnie Fields also off (16 points on 6-of-17 shooting), it was up to the rest of the supporting cast to produce, and Thornton had everybody covered.

No other Admiral player scored more than five points. Garnett and Fields, who rescued Farragut in victories over Dunbar and Carver in the city Final Four last weekend, combined for 31 of Farragut’s 34 points in the final three quarters. But this time it wasn’t enough. Farragut shot 15-of-51.

“I think Farragut might have been looking ahead to Peoria Manual,” Thornton coach Rocky Hill said. “They kind of offended our kids. How can they look past (us)? I’ve seen us focused like this only one other time, against Thornridge at Thornridge. When they get focused, good thing happen to us.”

Farragut obliged with a relatively listless effort, becoming yet another Public League team to lose in the quarterfinals after winning the rough-and-tough Public League playoff.

“It never seemed like (Farragut) wanted to play,” Hill said. “I looked into their eyes and they seemed like they were never in the game.

“It’s like I said before, when that Chicago Public League comes down here, they’ve expended so much energy. I was hoping to catch them flat and we did.”

“I don’t think that was (the problem) for us tonight,” said Farragut coach William Nelson. “We just didn’t seem to get things going. It just didn’t happen.”

“Y’all got what you wanted,” was all a disconsolate Garnett would say afterward. “I didn’t expect this.”

Tai Streets had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Thornton.

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