King(s) for the day
Jaguars usher RedHawks out of playoffs
Once upon a time, King was the scourge of the Chicago Public League.
Those halcyon days of basketball dominance are long gone, but the Jaguars proved last Tuesday in their own Class 4A regional that some fight remains within them. While 7-footers such as Rashard Griffith and Thomas Hamilton no longer roam the court attired in King’s colors, it didn’t matter when it came to subduing Marist.
The RedHawks, as expected, used another strong defensive performance to keep the Jaguars somewhat in check, but their own offense didn’t click with the kind of efficiency coach Gene Nolan would have preferred. Forty-one percent shooting, eight missed free throws — including the front end of four 1-and-1s — and 21 turnovers all loomed large in Marist’s eventual demise, which occurred by a gut-wrenching 47-46 final score.
While King — which registered the deciding bucket on a putback with 10 seconds remaining in the contest — moved on to Friday’s title game, the RedHawks closed the books on a better-than-expected 19-10 campaign.
Marist entered the 2013-14 season with plenty of unknowns, thanks to a graduation-ravaged roster. An apparent plus was the return of Nic Weishar after a one-year hiatus, but the 6-foot-5 senior was somewhat injury plagued and only able to offer periodic assistance. A sprained ankle suffered midway through the third quarter on Tuesday ended his night, and prep career, a bit prematurely.
But even with so many question marks, the RedHawks gradually found satisfactory answers. One of them was Brian Holland, who burned King for five first-half 3-pointers, which enabled Marist to hold a 28-24 lead at the break.
Holland (18 points) and Jeremiah Ferguson (13 points, seven assists, three steals) were the team’s leaders versus the Jaguars. Before he departed for good, Weishar supplied six points, five rebounds and two steals.
“I’m so proud of these kids,” Nolan said. “They came so far.
“The majority of our culture graduated, so these kids had to recreate it. I’m proud of them for building their team in the Marist way, [with] a premium on character and unselfishness.”
That included at game’s end against King, when Marist designed its final play for Romello Burrell instead of either Holland or Ferguson. The lob pass thrown to Burrell resulted in a “clean look at the rim” from about 8 feet away.
“It was as good a look as we could hope for,” Nolan said. “But it was definitely a challenged shot.”
The RedHawks were challenged a few times as a team during the course of the evening, too. They used seven offensive rebounds to combat four opening-period miscues, but missed shots immediately followed four of those boards and Marist failed to sink a couple other close-in attempts as well.
“It’s not like we had missed 3s,” Nolan said. “We’re going to make layups [eventually].”
Holland buried four of his long balls during the second stanza, which helped the RedHawks get up by as many as eight points. But the Jaguars also tallied a quartet of 3s in the frame to stay on their guests’ heels.
“King is good and they’re going to want to make you play fast,” Nolan said. “When we’ve been good this year, it’s because our defense has been good, and we’ve been at our best when we’ve been grinding and we’re making other teams play at that pace.”
Eight Marist turnovers in the third quarter swung momentum the Jaguars’ way. They outscored the RedHawks 17-6 in the period and carried a 41-34 edge into the last eight minutes.
“But I always felt like our kids felt we were still in the game,” Nolan said.
And sure enough Marist was. King gave up the ball on each of its first three possessions of the final stanza, although a Ferguson basket was the only offensive headway the RedHawks could make during that stretch.
Still, hope remained, and when Holland converted a three-point play after a Jaguars miscue a bit later, Marist had pulled itself into a 43-all deadlock. What impressed Nolan most about his squad’s rally was that it held King to four points over the first 7 ½ minutes of the session.
“King has what we call ‘spurt-ability’ — they’re capable of going on an 8-0 run at any point of the game,” he said. “Defensively, I thought we were locked in and I thought the fourth quarter was as good as we’ve played [in that area] all year.”
Certainly, the overall numbers supported Nolan’s claim. King shot only 42 percent from the floor and attempted only one free throw.
Two Ferguson free throws inched the RedHawks ahead 46-45, but an ensuing failure at the stripe kept Marist from fully capitalizing on the Jaguars’ 17th turnover of the contest. King’s putback and the RedHawks’ last-second miss followed.
“It’s exciting when you move on; when you lose, it’s tough,” Nolan said. “That’s the great thing about the state tournament — the urgency of it. Everybody has this [empty] feeling at the end unless you win the state championship.”
Marist 11 17 6 12 - 46
King 6 18 17 6 - 47
Marist Scoring: Holland 18, Ferguson 13, Weishar 6, Burrell 3, Hill 3, Lerma 3. Rebounds: Burrell 7, Lerma 5, Weishar 5. Assists: Ferguson 7. Steals: Ferguson 3.