RedHawks’ defense continues to excel on eve of playoff
Marist’s “D” has rated an “A-plus” of late.
Actually, RedHawks coach Gene Nolan has long considered defense one of his basketball team’s strong suits this season, but even he was impressed with what Marist did over the last five games of its regular schedule.
During that span, every one of its foes shot less than 40 percent from the field and four of them were unable to crack the 40-point barrier. The team that did, St. Viator, managed to defeat the RedHawks, but its output in a 49-40 East Suburban Catholic Conference victory last Wednesday in Arlington Heights represented a season low for a single contest.
And the Lions were no slouch - while topping the 70-point mark in over a dozen outings this winter, they lost only once in league play and finished second to state-ranked Marian Catholic in the ESCC standings.
“They’re really good and they’ve had a great year,” Nolan said of the Lions. “They’ve got a couple of Division I guards, and probably a third.”
Marist (19-9, 4-4) isn’t quite so blessed. Its most recognizable player, Nic Weishar, is best known for football, and the RedHawks began the 2013-14 campaign with next to nothing in the way of proven experience. But early on, Nolan’s players embraced the concept of defense, and it has paid off handsomely with a record that has likely taken a majority of people by surprise.
“It’s something you can be consistent at,” Nolan said of playing defense. “They have very good defensive instincts and I think they take pride in it. It’s definitely our identity.”
And it’s definitely what kept the RedHawks in the hunt versus St. Viator on an evening when the locals went 4-of-15 behind the arc and connected on just 39 percent of their attempts from inside 3-point territory. With the Lions sinking only 36 percent of their field-goal tries, committing a dozen turnovers and picking up just one point from the foul line, Marist stayed competitive the entire way.
A missed free throw on the front end of a 1-and-1 - one of four such happenings for them in the game - with 3:45 remaining in the fourth quarter prevented the RedHawks from perhaps pulling even at 37-all, but the visitors were still nipping at St. Viator’s heels after that. With 1:10 left, a mere four points separated the clubs.
“We just didn’t shoot well enough to balance out that good defense,” Nolan said. “If we could have made some shots, like we usually do, we could have won this game.”
Jeremiah Ferguson (17 points, six rebounds, four assists) was the lone Marist player to tally in double figures, but that lack of firepower wasn’t too costly in the first half. Thanks to their solid work without the ball, the RedHawks limited the Lions to a point per minute before intermission and trailed by only five at the break.
“I thought we were as engaged defensively as we have been all year,” Nolan said. “It might not be [considered] a glamour thing to hold a team to 16 points in a half, but to our kids it is. The casual fan might have thought it was an ugly game, but the pace favored us [because it was] a game that didn’t flow and wasn’t fluid.
“We try making teams feel like they can’t get comfortable in their offense. Our kids believe in each other, and if you have five great individual defenders who also play good team defense, you can be successful [on a steady basis]. We’re going to need that in the state tournament.”
Marist wound up as the stingiest squad in the ESCC in average points per game surrendered, and Nolan feels “this team is in the conversation of being one of the best defenses we’ve ever had.” He did admit, however, to being uncertain at the outset of the current season as to what might be forthcoming.
“After all the kids we graduated, we weren’t sure what we had,” Nolan said. “Anything this year has developed through the year, but these are tough kids. You can’t ask every kid to be great at everything, but you build up those things they are great at.”
Brian Holland tossed in nine points and Weishar totaled five points, 10 rebounds and four assists for the RedHawks, who began play in the Class 4A King Regional this past Tuesday against the host Jaguars.
“We’ll have our hands full, but I think we got better because of this [St. Viator] game,” Nolan said. “It’s been a great year and a fun year.”
Agricultural Science 37
Certainly, there was plenty of fun in store for the RedHawks last Thursday, when they wrapped up the regular schedule by notching a lopsided win over Chicago Agricultural Science in a game that had originally been postponed because of bad weather.
In front of a Senior Night crowd, Nolan started five of his six seniors. Weishar volunteered to be odd man out, but according to Nolan, he wasn’t the only one thinking along those same lines.
“They’re givers, not takers, and that’s so important in a team sport,” Nolan said. “It was just a statement on Senior Night from seniors who really care.”
Despite the makeshift lineup, Marist raced to a 10-0 lead as Ryan Tucker (3-point basket), Weishar and Andre Turner all delivered early hoops, the latter’s coming on a layup off a Weishar assist. The RedHawks were up 16-8 at the quarter stop and 35-19 at halftime, and the visitors weren’t in any position to stage a second-half comeback.
The Cyclones went 3-of-13 from 3-point land and were at 37 percent accuracy within two-point territory. They did make seven free throws, but Marist’s defense allowed only four offensive rebounds and forced 12 miscues.
Ten RedHawks reached the scoring column, with Holland (11 points), Weishar (nine points, seven rebounds, seven assists, three steals) and Tucker (seven points, four assists) showing the way. Marist shot 45 percent from the floor, 42 percent from 3-point range and 72 percent at the charity stripe, but what Nolan especially liked was the RedHawks’ total of 18 assists, which represented a season-best effort.
Marist 6 5 14 15 - 40
St. Viator 4 12 17 16 - 49
Marist Scoring: Ferguson 17, Holland 9, Weishar 5, Lerma 4, Hawkins 3, Burrell 2. Rebounds: Weishar 10. Assists: Ferguson 4, Weishar 4. Steals: Lerma 3.
Agricultural Science 8 11 7 11 - 37
Marist 16 19 14 5 - 54
Marist Scoring: Holland 11, Weishar 9, Tucker 7, Lerma 6, Rivard 6, Hawkins 4, Ferguson 3, Hill 3, Turner 3, Burrell 2. Rebounds: Weishar 7. Assists: Weishar 7, Tucker 4. Steals: Weishar 3.