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Returning from a fractured elbow, Lee Marks lifts Mount Carmel in 3A state semifinals. ‘It was a great boost.’

Vincent D. Johnson/Chicago Tribune/TNS

CHAMPAIGN — When he fractured his right elbow in a Feb. 6 game against Leo, Mount Carmel’s Lee Marks was certain his high school career was done.

But just over a month later, the 6-foot-5 senior guard was back on the court for the Caravan’s first boys basketball state appearance in 39 years.

“As soon as I hit it, I was like, ‘Man, my season is over with,’” Marks said of the injury. “In the moment, I was really sad about it, but I said, ‘It is what it is.’

“But God gave me another chance to play with my teammates.”

Marks scored eight points off the bench in his comeback Friday as Mount Carmel pulled away in the second half to beat Mount Zion 65-49 in a Class 3A semifinal at the State Farm Center.

Cameron Thomas and Grant Best scored 14 points apiece to lead the Caravan (32-5), with Thomas grabbing six rebounds. Northwestern recruit Angelo Ciaravino finished with 13 points and Noah Mister added 10.

Mount Carmel will play at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the state championship game against Catholic League Blue rival DePaul Prep (34-2), a 52-41 winner over Peoria Richwoods.

DePaul beat the Caravan 41-38 on Feb. 12.

Marks, though, worked his way through physical therapy and slowly felt his elbow getting better. He returned to practice Tuesday.

“The excitement kind of built up over the week,” Marks said. “Doing the physical therapy, I started to know that I might have a really good chance of coming back.

“I was able to practice, and then to end up playing and be able to support my teammates and do what I can do for the team, it was really exciting.”

JC Anderson scored 17 points for Mount Zion (35-2) but just one in the second half.

Marks, meanwhile, entered the game late in the first quarter after Ciaravino picked up his second foul and showed no signs of rust, quickly scoring four points.

“It was a great boost,” Thomas said of Marks’ return. “I was super excited he came back. He came in and (scored), and I was really excited for him. I’m glad he’s back.”

So is Mount Carmel coach Phil Segroves.

“Lee’s been a big part of our success for two years now,” Segroves said. “What we didn’t want to do was put any pressure on him. Did we need him? Of course. But his safety has to come first.

“But when he practiced, it was an unbelievable practice. He was flying all over the place. It was great to have him back.”

Friday’s semifinal game was tied 30-30 at halftime, but Mount Carmel seized control by outscoring the Braves 20-10 in the third quarter.

Much of that came with Ciaravino on the bench after picking up his third foul.

Anderson, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, was unstoppable in the first half for Mount Zion, scoring 16 points. But he was held to just one free throw in the second half.

Segroves gave Marks some credit for that.

“We switched up Christian (Uremovich) and Lee, two different types of players,” Segroves said. “I think Lee posed some different problems for him — got a couple tip-outs when they tried to throw the ball inside and got him a little frustrated.”

Mount Carmel is shooting for the program’s second state championship, having won the Class AA title in its only other state appearance in 1985. The Caravan area also looking to follow the school’s football and wrestling teams, which have won state titles this school year.

Having Marks back certainly helps. Despite the long layoff, he was ready to go.

“I was definitely confident,” Marks said. “I knew my teammates were going to support me. They were going to help me out, I was going to help them out, and we were going to do what we do.”