Junior achievement

  • Written by Ken Karson

Finn’s hot hand helps Rice down Vikings

Arguing with Mark Sevedge’s strategy was difficult.
Knowing what Brother Rice seniors Quinn Niego and Ray Rubio have done to so many teams - including his own - this year, the St. Laurence coach opted to try to shut them down as much possible. Sevedge was banking on the idea that no other Crusader would be able to hurt the Vikings too badly when the two area rivals squared off again on Sunday in the Chicago Catholic League Tournament.
But while it was largely mission accomplished on Niego and Rubio, thanks to the combined efforts of Matt Gurgone and Mike Witkowski, St. Laurence derived no benefits from its duo’s handiwork. That’s because Sevedge’s plan ultimately backfired when another Rice athlete did indeed assume a starring role.
Junior Connor Finn became the Vikings’ worst nightmare in the third quarter. His three 3-point baskets and 12 total points were at the forefront of the Crusaders’ 24-point eruption, a scoring assault that enabled them to gain some much-needed breathing room versus St. Laurence.

“That was kind of the poison we picked,” Sevedge said. “Those [other] two are such good players - they can finish at the rim and they’re deadly shooters, but we were not letting them get space. The kids we put on Rubio and Niego did a great job and I couldn’t be more proud of them, but their role players stepped forward.”
Rice was ahead by 11 points after three periods, then it survived a spirited last-ditch surge by the Vikings to collect a 54-49 victory at Gordon Tech. Both teams were back in action this past Wednesday as the tourney continued.
Finn finished with 15 points and became the first player other than Niego or Rubio to pace the Crusaders (12-12) in single-game scoring this winter. He augmented his offense with five steals and two blocks. Rubio added 13 points and Niego tossed in 10, and both chipped in fourth-quarter points to help Rice beat back the St. Laurence challenge.
“We’ve been begging for that all year,” Crusaders coach Rick Harrigan said, referring to the emergence of a viable third weapon alongside Rubio and Niego. “That was encouraging to see that.
“It was nice to see Connor relieve a little bit of [scoring] pressure [for us]. Hopefully, he keeps it up. It won’t do us much good if we revert back to a two-man show.”
The Vikings (5-18) boasted some decent offensive balance of their own, as Gurgone (18 points, two assists), Rich Lamb (12 points), Bob Kelly (eight points, four rebounds) and Quentin Forberg (eight points) all made their presences felt. Five second-half 3-pointers by Gurgone helped St. Laurence stay afloat after Finn blitzed it and created a greater advantage for his own team.
“I think we played three really good quarters and one bad quarter, and that [latter period] bit us on the butt,” Sevedge said. “We were a little bit slow and little bit careless with the ball [in that stanza], and they capitalized on every mistake we made.
“They were [also] more physical than us and got after it. There were too many second-chance opportunities for them.”
Rice attempted eight more shots than the Vikings and had six additional baskets, and making the Crusaders’ performance even more notable was their meager two-turnover total. St. Laurence was guilty of 11 miscues, but not until a shot was partially blocked in the final minute were its victory aspirations quashed.
Rice wrapped four free throws around that miss to establish a five-point margin. Niego buried four charity tosses during the final quarter and Rubio added one, along with a pair of layups.
While the Vikings came much closer to toppling the Crusaders than they had previously - Rice prevailed by 20 points in the earlier encounter - Harrigan was not caught off-guard by St. Laurence’s competitiveness.
“That might be a surprise to some people, but not to me,” he said. “They’ve played a lot of Catholic League teams close, so they haven’t conceded anything. We knew they weren’t going to be easy.
“They play real hard and are well-prepared. They run their stuff [efficiently] and they hit more shots [against us] than they did the first time around.”
Providence Catholic 67
Brother Rice 53
Seeing as how the winner of Friday night’s clash between the Crusaders and Celtics would earn a berth in the upper bracket of the Catholic League Tournament, Harrigan considered it a de facto playoff contest.
It was also Rice’s Senior Night, so there was plenty of reason to approach the game with a high level of intensity. The squad that did so, however, was the one arriving from New Lenox.
“Providence came out with a little more enthusiasm and energy, and we were flat after the ceremony,” Harrigan said. “We couldn’t make a shot and couldn’t get a [defensive] stop.”
That was most evident in the first period, when the Celtics sprinted out to an 18-8 lead and made the Crusaders have to pursue them the rest of the way. Niego did his part to spark Rice as he finished with 21 points and five rebounds, but the scoring dropped off considerably after that.
Rubio’s eight markers represented the Crusaders’ second-highest total, and the hosts, despite committing only two turnovers, never did settle into any sort of offensive rhythm. Rice shot just 27 percent from the floor, although it did sink 32 percent of its 3-point attempts.
However, Providence countered with a blistering 61 percent success rate and also held a decisive 38-17 edge on the glass.
Brother Rice 49
Kennedy 38
Harrigan borrowed a page from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s book when he sat his regulars last Tuesday against Kennedy, a move made in anticipation of the Crusaders’ upcoming tourney appearance.
Harrigan said that “maybe [the tactic] didn’t work” seeing as how Rice’s starters struggled somewhat on Friday, but the Crusaders’ reserves certainly didn’t squander their chance to assume lead roles. Rice’s standouts versus Kennedy were Mike Shepski, Jack Collins and Kevin Baldali, who combined for 33 points and six assists.
Collins (10 rebounds) and Baldali (seven) were stalwarts on the boards as well, and the former capped a superb all-around effort by also making off with a team-high four steals.
The Crusaders shot out to a 16-1 first-quarter advantage and were never headed. They prospered despite connecting on just 35 percent of their shots and missing nine free throws, doing so primarily because of a 35-24 rebounding edge and 17 Kennedy turnovers.
Rice met up with Seton Academy this past Wednesday in the Catholic League Tournament and plays again on Friday.

St. Laurence 60
Argo 51
Harrigan claimed that if the Vikings “were in another league besides the Catholic League, they’d have a lot more wins,” and that assessment certainly had credibility in the wake of St. Laurence’s triumph over the Argonauts last Tuesday.
Argo became the second South Suburban Conference Red member to be beaten by the Vikings in a week. Defeated before that was Shepard, which is currently the second-place team in the SSC Red. The Argonauts also remain in the hunt for a division championship.
“It really is a credit to our league,” Sevedge said. “I’m the most disappointed person that we’re not winning in the Catholic League, but we’re competing in it.
“The last month or month-and-a-half, we’re losing games [by] between five and 10 points to really good teams. It kills me we haven’t been able to pull out some of those games, but [playing them] has really prepared us for our nonconference schedule.”
Argo got the early jump on St. Laurence, but the hosts’ 10-4 lead evaporated in the second frame after the Vikings went on a 15-4 tear. Lamb’s 3-pointer, which came on the heels of a Witkowski jumper, put St. Laurence in front for the first time and Romello Radford’s buzzer-beating bucket culminated a strong showing.
“We just started executing well and getting some easy looks at the basket,” Sevedge said. “Once we got some easy baskets, it kind of loosened up their defense.”
Kelly’s 3-ball at the start of the third quarter increased the Vikings’ lead to 22-14 and signaled the beginning of a 21-12 run that gave the visitors undeniable control of the proceedings.
“Watching them on film and doing our scouting reports, I’ve been extremely impressed with them,” Sevedge said of the Argonauts. “And it was their Senior Night. You always think teams have got some energy on that night and are playing for each other, and you expect them to come out with a flurry, but we guarded really well.”
For proof, Sevedge cited the work done on Argo star Tyler Mitchell by Witkowski. Mitchell had recently gone on a streak of four straight games with at least 30 points, but he went scoreless through the opening half and had just six points through three quarters. Mitchell provided the remainder of his 15 points after the Argonauts had fallen in arrears by double digits.
Forberg (14 points, five assists), Lamb (13 points, nine rebounds) and Witkowski (10 points) all tallied in double figures for St. Laurence, which shot 50 percent from the field, 79 percent at the line and committed only eight turnovers.
“Everybody’s becoming more comfortable in our system,” Sevedge said. “Our guards are starting to get comfortable, and when we execute well, we’re getting guys open. We’re gearing toward the playoffs and we’ll try to sneak up on somebody [that underestimates us].”
Mt. Carmel 60
St. Laurence 49
The Vikings’ Friday clash at Mt. Carmel was like so many of their other Catholic League games of late - one brief slip-up was enough to trip them up.
In this case, it was a third quarter during which the Caravan piled up 25 points. Forward Gabriel Grant gave them an inside presence with 10 points in the period, and guards David Nichols and Christian Searles supplied 11 more points between them.
“They were penetrating hard to the basket,” Sevedge said of the latter pair. “Their size and speed got to us in the third quarter.
“We were forcing them to settle for 3s [earlier] and I think Coach [Mike] Flaherty really got on his guys about not being more physical and getting inside.”
Just one point separated the two teams at halftime, as Gurgone (14 points, three rebounds), Forberg (10 points) and Kelly (eight) served as St. Laurence’s catalysts. The Vikings posted a 43 percent success rate from the floor, five points lower than the Caravan’s number.
St. Laurence returned to the Catholic League Tournament this past Wednesday versus St. Ignatius.
St. Laurence   9  9  12  19 - 49
Brother Rice   8  9  24  13 - 54
St. Laurence Scoring: Gurgone 18, Lamb 12, Forberg 8, Kelly 8, Radford 2, Witkowski 1. Rebounds: Kelly 4. Assists: Gurgone 2.
Brother Rice Scoring: Finn 15, Rubio 13, Niego 10, Scanlon 8, Mueller 4, Baldali 2, Shepski 2. Rebounds: Rubio 6. Assists: Scanlon 4. Steals: Finn 5. Blocks: Finn 2, Niego 2.

Providence Catholic 18 19 11 19 - 67
Brother Rice   8  15  11  19 - 53
Brother Rice Scoring: Niego 21, Rubio 8, Finn 7, Gallagher 6, Shepski 6, Conlisk 3, Scanlon 2. Rebounds: Niego 5. Assists: Scanlon 2. Steals: Finn 2, Rubio 2.

Kennedy   1  8  12  17 - 38
Brother Rice   16  6  12  15 - 49
Brother Rice Scoring: Shepski 12, Collins 11, Baldali 10, Gallagher 5, Conlisk 4, Swiatek 3, Clifford 2, Gorman 2. Rebounds: Collins 10, Baldali 7, Clifford 6. Assists: Baldali 2m Collins 2, Shepski 2. Steals: Collins 4.

St. Laurence   4  15  21  20 - 60
Argo   10  4  12  25 - 51
St. Laurence Scoring: Forberg 14, Lamb 13, Witkowski 10, Delaney 6, Gurgone 6, Radford 5, Kelly 3, Aderman 2, Don Curley 1. Rebounds: Lamb 9. Assists: Forberg 5.

St. Laurence   10  13  11  15 - 49
Mt. Carmel   13  11  25  11 - 60
St. Laurence Scoring: Gurgone 14, Forberg 10, Kelly 8, Delaney 4, Risley 4, Witkowski 3, Aderman 2, Gould 2, Lamb 2. Rebounds: Gurgone 3. Assists: Radford 2.