The highly anticipated championship game between Fenwick and Morgan Park at the 55th Annual Proviso West Holiday Tournament lived up to the hype — at least for the first half. The Friars made their first eight shots and essentially went toe to toe with the Mustangs who led 33-31 at halftime.

Morgan Park pulled away in the second half, however, outscoring Fenwick by 24 points en route to an 81-55 victory. The Mustangs’ star guard Charlie Moore scored a game-high 27 points on 10-for-22 shooting with five steals, while Jarrin Randle (18 points on six 3-pointers) and Ayo Dosunma (10 points) also reached double figures. Morgan Park made 5 of 7 shots from behind the 3-point arc in the third quarter to build a 56-44 lead.

Senior Mike Ballard led the Friars with 17 points, including 5-for-10 shooting beyond the 3-point line. Jamal Nixon had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds and Mike Smith chipped in nine points and five assists.

“We were moving the ball a lot in the first half,” Ballard said. “Sometimes we have a bad habit of attacking right away on our offensive possessions, but we want to extend our possessions and pass the ball. In the second half we got away from that and (Morgan Park) just made a lot of shots.”

The Friars scored the first two buckets of the game on a lay-up by Jacob Keller and a jumper by Smith. The only other lead Fenwick held was when Ballard made a 3-pointer to put Fenwick back up 19-18 with 1:38 left in the first quarter. Ballard scored eight points as Fenwick made 8 of 11 shots (72.7 percent) in the first quarter.

In the second half, Fenwick committed 12 turnovers and shot a much lower field goal percentage while Morgan Park found a nice rhythm offensively by making 19 of 33 shots. The Mustangs held significant advantages for the game in points off turnovers (26-6) and points in the paint (39-23). Fenwick also finished with an uncharacteristically high number of turnovers (21) and only 12 assists, while Morgan Park had 15 steals with consistent defensive pressure.

“From this game we just have to take away that you always have to play hard,” Ballard said. “You have to pay attention to personnel. What hurt us in [Wednesday’s] game was that [Morgan Park’s] shooters were getting open and we know we can’t let them shoot the ball. They had about seven or eight 3-pointers in a row that just totally blew the game open.”

Despite the loss, the Friars were happy with their showing at Proviso West with a 60-57 double-overtime win over Bogan in the semifinals, a 56-50 victory against Whitney Young, and a 65-38 rout of Von Steuben in the opening round.

Tied at 42 after three quarters against Whitney Young, the Friars went on a key six-point run to open the final quarter and held off the Dolphins the rest of the way. Keller finished with a game-high 23 points on 10 of 12 shooting from the field and Smith contributed 21 points.

Against Bogan, Ballard scored 23 points and Smith had 21 points while Nixon recorded another double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Fenwick (11-1) advanced to the title game for the first time since 1977.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Fenwick coach Rick Malnati said. “Our goal was to play on the last night, and we did that. I wish we would have had a little more in our tank, but it’s been an emotionally and physically draining five days. We’re playing five guys a lot of minutes, and I think we just wore out.”

Morgan Park’s Moore, who averaged a tournament-best 25.3 points en route to MVP honors, was an All-Tournament First-Team honoree along with Fenwick’s Smith, St. Joseph’s Nick Rakocevic, Bogan’s James Jones and Cathedral Catholic’s Brandon McCoy.

Ballard earned second-team recognition.

“It means a lot to get to the championship and do something that hasn’t been done in so long,” Ballard said. “The goal was to win it, so we’re not completely satisfied. We just have to keep playing hard.”

Led by Smith, Ballard, Nixon and Keller, plus contributions from several role players, the Friars have the look of a state contender. The team has already won its own John Malone Thanksgiving Tournament, defeated rival OPRF 55-46 at the Chicago Elite Classic, and is 3-0 in the Chicago Catholic League Red Division.

The Friars return to action with several home games this week, including Notre Dame (Jan. 6), Montini (Jan. 8), and Benet (Jan. 9). All tip off at 7 p.m.

Fenwick will face major tests later this month with games against Riverside-Brookfield, Simeon and St. Joseph.

n  Lauren Recchia contributed to this story