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Ironmen seek redemption against reigning 4A boys basketball champs Moline Maroons

The+Ironmen+and+Maroons+are+tied+at+2-2+the+last+two+seasons.+Community+swept+the+season+series+against+Moline+in+2022%2C+eliminating+the+Maroons+from+the+postseason.+%0ALast+season%2C+the+Maroons+repaid+the+favor%2C+ending+the+Ironmens+season.+%0A%2F%2F+Digital+Illustration
The Ironmen and Maroons are tied at 2-2 the last two seasons. Community swept the season series against Moline in 2022, eliminating the Maroons from the postseason. Last season, the Maroons repaid the favor, ending the Ironmen’s season. // Digital Illustration

The Ironmen boys basketball team (24-5) hosts defending 4A champions the Moline Maroons Community’s final regular season home game, tipping off Saturday at 3 p.m. in a potential postseason preview.

The Moline matchup has morphed into a rivalry in recent years, Iron assistant coach Mr. Matt Schweinberg said, as the two teams have met in the Sectional Semifinals the last two seasons.

“Playing them this weekend and the possibility of [again in] the postseason,” Schweinberg said, brings “a little bit of added intensity to the game.”

While the Iron knocked off the Maroons 61-44 in 2022, Moline handed Community two losses last season. 

Led by reigning Illinois’ Mr. Basketball Brock Harding and Owen Freeman, Moline notched a regular season victory over Community 64-39 in early February before ending the Ironmen’s season with a 68-51 victory on the way to Champaign’s State Farm Center and a State title. 

Our guys remember them ending our season last year, Schweinberg said, they feel motivated to return the favor.

The Iron are hoping to avenge last season and avoid back-to-back losses to 2023 State championship squads after falling 47-38 to defending 3A champions the Metamora Redbirds in their previous non-conference matchup at the Normal West Midwest Crossroads Shootout on Feb 3.

While Harding and Freeman are out of the lineup, seeing time for the Iowa Hawkeyes as true freshmen, a win won’t be easy for the Ironmen.

The Maroons enter the contest boasting a 22-5 record, and despite five losses, they have been in each game this season. Moline’s largest loss this season, a nine-point margin, came at the hands of the East St. Louis Flyers 60-51. 

The Flyers, according to the most recent AP poll, are ranked 10th in Class 3A.  

Like the Ironmen, Moline’s losses this season have all come at the hands of quality opponents. 

They lost to Rock Island 49-47, a team just outside the top 10 in 4A. They were defeated by Sterling 76-72, a squad receiving votes in the 3A polling and lost to the number seven team in Missouri, De Smet Jesuit, 60-56. 

Moline fell to the Quincy Blue Devils 54-37, ranked third in 4A with a 25-2 record. 

The Maroons face Quincy in a rematch Friday night before boarding the bus to head to Normal for Saturday’s matinee. The combination of back-to-back quality opponents paired with the commute from the Quad Cities could factor into Saturday’s game. 

But historically, the Maroons have proven capable of rising to a challenge.

The Maroons, the last two seasons, averaged over 70 points a game on the way to back-to-back 30-plus win seasons.

This year’s roster features 12 upperclassmen determined to replicate that success. 

Among them are 6-foot-6 juniors Trey Taylor, in his third year as a starter, and Braden Freeman, the team’s sixth man last season.  

Taylor averages 15.9 points in conference games this season while Freeman averages 13.6.  

This will be the fourth time Community center Jaheem Webber squares up against the Maroons, and the big man knows what they are capable of. 

Freeman, Webber said, is “very versatile and can do a lot of things on the court.”

The Maroons are coming off a 75-32 rout of Geneseo, a game that saw Taylor tally 17 and Freeman add 10. In the contest, the Maroons demonstrated their ability to create scoring chances and move the ball, recording 18 assists.

Community will be looking for a return to form from Noah Cleveland, the team’s leading scorer, who struggled last week while dealing with an illness. 

While Cleveland tallied just 15 points in the Ironmen’s last three games, he looked to be bouncing back in Tuesday’s 53-34 win over Pekin (15-9).

Cleveland went five for seven against the Dragons, scoring 10 in 26 minutes. 

If the Ironmen can replicate the balanced offense they displayed Tuesday–with Niko Newsome scoring 10, Braylon Roman adding nine and Jaheem Webber recording eight points and racking up 18 assists as a team–Saturday’s contest is poised to be an exciting matchup. 

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About the Contributor
Jeffery Woodard, Senior Staff Reporter
Jeffery Woodard is a senior at Normal Community High School and is involved in track & field. This is his third year working with the Inkspot, and he is a senior staff reporter. On the weekends, I enjoy hanging out with friends and going to the gym. In my free time, I enjoy watching movies of all sorts. My favorite film is "Black Panther."
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