RedHawks respond well to pair of challenges
The only thing that tops defeating an archrival is beating the very next opponent on the schedule.
That’s not always the easiest assignment for a sports team. So much energy and emotion typically gets poured into a showdown game that athletes on the winning side tend to have difficultly stepping out from under the glow of gratification.
Such a worry may have crossed Marist coach Gene Nolan’s mind in the aftermath of his squad’s 52-40 victory over neighborhood foe Brother Rice last Tuesday in Mount Greenwood. Admittedly, Nolan, having played in a few of those bragging-rights contests himself, didn’t attempt to downplay the RedHawks’ success against the Crusaders.
“Obviously, the win on Tuesday was a great win when you think about Brother Rice and how great they are,” he said. “It was a meaningful win for us.”
But Nolan also desired another one on Friday, when Marist re-entered the East Suburban Catholic Conference fray to tangle with Nazareth Academy. He got it, but not without periods of struggle.
The Roadrunners were tied at 50 with the RedHawks 2½ minutes into the fourth quarter, and Nazareth was still within four points almost three minutes later. Chamar Hawkins finally gave Marist some breathing room by hitting a floater and then a layup on consecutive possessions.
With a defensive stop sandwiched in between the baskets, the RedHawks had enough cushion to ward off the Roadrunners 68-59 and complete an unblemished week.
“Our [biggest] opponent was the competition of a letdown,” Nolan said, referencing the triumph over Nazareth. “On Friday, we were able to find ways to win. I was proud of the kids for doing that.”
However, the Marist leader wasn’t about to proclaim Friday’s performance as thorough as Tuesday’s, particularly on the defensive end. In Nolan’s view, the RedHawks (15-4, 2-1) may have operated at peak efficiency without the ball against Rice, a feeling borne out by some of the Crusaders’ offensive numbers.
Most noteworthy was Marist’s shutdown of Rice standout Quinn Niego, who had been on a scoring tear of late. Hawkins and Ryan Tucker took turns shadowing Niego, and the latter wound up with a season-low six points.
Seeing as how he has been a main cog in the Crusaders’ attack all season, Niego’s meager output meant trouble for Rice. And its other go-to guy, Ray Rubio, only picked up some of the slack as the RedHawks’ Kevin Lerma shadowed him and limited Rubio to 14 points, which still ranked as the Crusaders’ highest total.
“Ray Rubio and Quinn Niego are really difficult covers defensively,” Nolan said. “We were going to try to get the ball out of their hands as quickly as possible [with a trapping defense]. When you have individual pride defensively and unselfishness in helping teammates guard, you can be consistent at defense.
“We played great defense throughout the game, rebounded behind it and hit timely shots.”
That didn’t begin in earnest, however, until after Rice had built an 18-12 lead, with Niego’s layup establishing that score with 3:49 left in the opening half. From there, the RedHawks embarked on a 15-0 blitz that bridged the second and third quarters and swung the game completely in their direction.
Two 3-pointers from Bradley Hill, plus Hawkins’ bucket were the primary elements in Marist’s closeout to the second period, then Jeremiah Ferguson and the returning-from-injury Nic Weishar hit three layups between them to usher in the third frame. Dan Scanlon’s jumper finally halted the run and brought the Crusaders within 27-20.
Rice trailed by 10 at the quarter break and made only moderate noise over the final eight minutes. In case the visitors housed any thoughts of a late comeback, Tucker dashed them by sinking a couple of 3-pointers that created a 41-26 gap. A 6-of-6 effort at the foul line by Marist’s Brian Barry also helped seal the deal.
Tucker (11 points) and Hill (12, all on 3-pointers) were the RedHawks’ scoring leaders, but the Lerma-Hawkins-Weishar trio pulled down a combined 20 rebounds to further aid the hosts. Ferguson dished out eight assists for Marist, which went 8-of-15 from 3-point territory and 16-of-37 overall from the field.
Rice struggled with its marksmanship, as it posted percentages of 42 from two-point range, 25 from behind the arc and 36 at the line. Although the Crusaders committed only 10 miscues — three fewer than their counterparts — they notched just two assists.
Nazareth Academy 59
Hawkins (17 points, six rebounds), Brian Holland (14 points), Lerma (10 points, seven assists) and Ferguson (10 points, five assists) joined forces to give the RedHawks enviable balance on Friday, and Marist needed that to vanquish the Roadrunners on an evening when its defensive display was somewhat lacking.
“We didn’t play as well defensively as we have been,” Nolan said. “Defense has been an identity for us, but it wasn’t our best game [in that regard]. Our kids know that.”
The RedHawks were ahead of Nazareth at the end of each stanza, but never by more than single digits. Three 3s by Holland fueled a 17-point opening session for Marist that made the Roadrunners have to chase.
Marist triumphed without any help from Tucker, who sat out because of a thigh bruise. His absence no doubt affected the RedHawks negatively, so Nolan was happy to escape with a win.
“We got some interior scoring and perimeter scoring, [and] different guys are stepping into that role [of leader],” he said. “We have a hungry group and we’re improving. That’s great to have a group trending in that direction this time of year.”
Some may think Marist has already greatly exceeded expectations, seeing as how it entered the year with so little in the way of varsity experience on the roster. Nolan claims to not be too surprised by his team’s 15-4 start, but there was one thing even he didn’t know for sure heading in.
“How was it going to happen or where was it going to come from — we had to learn that,” he said.
Brother Rice 66
Seton Academy 43
Rubio and Niego returned to form on Friday night, combining for 39 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Crusaders (9-9, 3-4) past the Sting in a Chicago Catholic League contest.
Rubio also paced Rice with six assists and two steals as it sped away from Seton on the strength of a 20-9 third quarter. Actually, the Crusaders had been in pretty good shape even before that as they outscored the Sting in each of the first two periods as well and owned a 14-point advantage at halftime.
Fifty-eight percent shooting was a big plus for Rice, as were a 28-17 edge on the glass, 17 assists and just five turnovers. Defensively, the Crusaders forced nine miscues and held Seton to a 37 percent success rate from the floor, which included a 2-of-11 exhibition from 3-point land.
Brother Rice 10 8 10 12 - 40
Marist 7 14 14 17 - 52
Brother Rice Scoring: Rubio 14, Scanlon 7, Niego 6, Finn 3, Mueller 3, Perez 3, Conlisk 2, Shepski 2. Rebounds: Mueller 5. Assists: Rubio 1, Scanlon 1.
Marist Scoring: Hill 12, Tucker 11, Lerma 7, Weishar 7, Barry 6, Ferguson 4, Holland 3, Hawkins 2. Rebounds: Hawkins 7, Lerma 7, Weishar 6. Assists: Ferguson 8.
Nazareth Acad. 14 17 13 15 - 59
Marist 17 19 12 20 - 68
Marist Scoring: Hawkins 17, Holland 14, Ferguson 10, Lerma 10, Hill 6, Barry 4, Burrell 4, Weishar 3. Rebounds: Lerma 7, Hawkins 6. Assists: Ferguson 5, Barry 4.
Brother Rice 16 16 20 14 - 66
Seton Academy 10 8 9 16 - 43
Brother Rice Scoring: Rubio 21, Niego 18, Finn 9, Scanlon 5, Gallagher 4, Mueller 4, Shepski 3, Conlisk 2. Rebounds: Niego 8. Assists: Rubio 6. Steals: Rubio 2.