On the right track

  • Written by Ken Karson

RedHawks stifle JCA to stop slide

Against the Hilltoppers, Marist refused to bottom out.
Losing to Joliet Catholic Academy Friday night certainly wouldn’t have spelled doom for the RedHawks, but it would have extended a feeling of gloom. Marist entered the East Suburban Catholic Conference matchup in Mount Greenwood in the midst of a four-game losing streak, which had gotten extended four days earlier by Tinley Park.
Most troubling to RedHawks coach Gene Nolan in that earlier confrontation was his squad’s inability to slow the rapid-paced Titans. Tinley chalked up 78 points against Marist, just enough to net it a two-point triumph.

“The team that deserved to win the game did win the game,” Nolan said. “I credit Tinley Park — what they do well, they did very well against us.
“They’re playing really fast this year, kind of similar to Eisenhower’s style. They call it ‘chaos,” like VCU plays [in college ball], and they force you to play at their pace. We were not engaged enough defensively to where, when we needed stops, we could get them.”
All that changed on Friday, and not just because the youthful Hilltoppers — whose starting lineup consisted of four sophomores and one junior — preferred a more deliberate approach. Nolan felt his guys had put in three good days of practice between games, and those laid the groundwork for a convincing 60-39 win.
“We must have an accurate perception of reality because you’ll never improve the things you need to work on [if you don’t],” Nolan said. “Defense has been our identity, and the kids knew we had not played well on Monday against Tinley Park.
“Anytime you’re in a [losing] streak, where you haven’t played as well as you’d like, you want to get off to a good start [in your next game], get ahead and stay ahead. When we came out [against JCA], I thought we played as well defensively as we have all year.”
And because of that, the RedHawks (16-8, 3-3) raced to a 19-5 lead. A couple of the Hilltoppers’ 20 turnovers were part of a 10-2 Marist run, and the home team scored after both as Bradley Hill nailed a 3-pointer and Kevin Lerma hit a basket. Lerma totaled eight of his 12 points in the opening stanza, and Brian Holland and Ryan Tucker matched Hill by depositing shots from behind the arc.
An 18-11 scoring advantage in the second quarter essentially sealed the deal for Marist, which knocked in eight of its 18 3-point tries and posted a 52 percent overall success rate from the field.
“I don’t know if I would have thought in the summer this was a team that would have as one of its strengths perimeter shooting,” Nolan said. “We’re shooting over 40 percent from 3-point [range] this season.”
JCA was also effective from long distance (8-of-21), but it clicked on just 37 percent of its total shots and committed all but four of its turnovers prior to intermission. The Hilltoppers never got closer than 17 points in the final 16 minutes.
“We felt if we could pressure their guards and speed them up, we could keep them away from what they do effectively,” Nolan said of JCA. “You want to pressure without fouling, and I think a key statistic was them going 3-of-4 at the foul line. We made them [have to] score from the field.”
Holland paced the RedHawks with 15 points, which came on five 3s. Romelo Burrell had eight points and five rebounds, and four other Marist players delivered at least five points. Among them was Nic Weishar, who returned after a four-game, injury-induced absence to provide five points, six rebounds and three steals.
Jeremiah Ferguson and Brian Barry passed out 14 assists between them, and the latter was also praised by Nolan for being turnover-free.
Tinley Park 78
Marist 76
The Titans had lost three years in a row to the RedHawks, but they ended that victory drought last Monday by scoring the go-ahead bucket with 3.9 seconds left. The hoop was sandwiched between two Marist turnovers and preceded by a couple of Tinley Park free throws, which pulled the hosts even at 76.
The RedHawks dealt well with the Titans’ speedy style early on, as they constructed a 22-10 lead and exited the first period ahead by eight at 24-16. Ken Rivard had six points for Marist during the opening eight minutes, while Hill and Chamar Hawkins each connected once from 3-point land.
The RedHawks were still up at intermission, but Tinley had dissolved most of a seven-point deficit in the last 1:20 of the second quarter.
“You never want to end the half the way we ended that one,” Nolan said. “They had momentum after having scored at the horn.”
Not much separated the Titans and Marist from that point forward, but the RedHawks eventually had problems maintaining control of the ball. They were charged with 23 turnovers.
“They run a full-court press, man on the ball, but I thought we handled their pressure real well at the start,” Nolan said of Tinley. “[But] there’s nobody in our league that plays this fast and their pressure wore us down. We will learn from this game.”
And despite the outcome, Nolan wasn’t sorry Marist played in it.
“When you go into the state tournament, you can see anything,” he said. “It’s a great thing playing so many different styles in the regular season.”
Lerma (17 points, five rebounds, three steals), Ferguson (16 points, five assists, three steals) and Rivard (12 points, five rebounds) were the RedHawks’ headliners. After tangling with Hubbard this past Tuesday, Marist hosts Notre Dame in another ESCC contest on Friday.
Marist 24 10 22 20 - 76
Tinley Park 16 17 25 20 - 78
Marist Scoring: Lerma 17, Ferguson 16, Rivard 12, Holland 8, Hill 7, Barry 4, Tucker 4, Burrell 3. Rebounds: Lerma 5, Rivard 5. Assists: Ferguson 5, Barry 4. Steals: Ferguson 3, Lerma 3.

JCA 5 11 11 12 - 39
Marist 19 18 14 9 - 60
Marist Scoring: Holland 15, Lerma 12, Burrell 8, Rivard 6, Hill 5, Tucker 5, Weishar 5, Ferguson 4. Rebounds: Lerma 6, Weishar 6, Burrell 5, Rivard 5. Assists: Ferguson 8, Barry 6. Steals: Ferguson 3, Lerma 3.