HEADLINE: Only 16 is sweet
SUBHEAD: Strong second half can’t prevent RedHawks loss
By Ken Karrson
Sweet 16 is fine when it refers to a birthday.
When it describes the amount of time a basketball team excels in a game, that’s not so good. That, however, was how it went for Marist in its regular-season finale last Wednesday in Mount Greenwood.
Coming off a lopsided loss to Notre Dame in their previous outing, the RedHawks found themselves in a similar offensive torpor versus visiting St. Viator and trailed 34-20 at halftime. They had been down to the Dons by 20.
“In the first half, we did not bring it to the level Marist teams need to bring it,” RedHawks coach Gene Nolan said. “It was very similar to the previous Friday. At this time of year, it’s hard to shake that.”
Nolan worried about how his athletes would react to a second straight drubbing and the degree to which it could affect Marist’s entry into the Class 4A tournament. But that feeling passed by evening’s end.
No, the RedHawks didn’t manage to make up all the early lost ground, but their ability to put heat on the Lions almost until the final buzzer gave everyone a much-needed emotional boost. Although Marist suffered a 59-51 East Suburban Catholic Conference setback, Nolan said he was “as proud as I’ve ever been of a Marist team” during the second half.
“Our kids fought, rebounded well and executed [the game plan],” he said. “It was a good ending. We had talked [at halftime] about why they came to school here and who we really want to be as a team. It’s about how we respond to adversity.
“The biggest thing is that you do get better, and we played very hard and together. [Coming back strong] -- that was the win. We’re going to be confident going into the playoffs now.”
The RedHawks (20-9, 5-4) were still chasing 11 points heading into the fourth stanza, but Maurice Commander lit a fire beneath Marist. The freshman guard deposited four 3-pointers and Brian Barry hit a fifth to give the RedHawks some juice. The hosts were within six at the three-minute mark and had possession of the ball.
Along with the long balls, Marist benefited from improved defense. With Kevin Lerma and Justin Brown doing a good deal of the dirty work, the RedHawks limited St. Viator stars Patrick McNamara and Sal Cannella to a combined 11 points in the last 16 minutes after the duo had poured in 27 prior to intermission.
“Our issue in the first half was on the defensive end,” Nolan said. “We always talk about how we want to make unknowns beat us, but we weren’t doing that. It was two totally different [stretches of] 16 minutes.”
Nolan said Marist’s complete switch to a man-to-man scheme helped it control the Lions better, but even more important in the coach’s opinion was the RedHawks’ “overall energy and effort.” He also liked his team’s “best offensive half of the season” as Marist wound up shooting 47 percent from the floor, an exhibition that included an 8-of-18 performance from beyond the arc.
The locals also kept their turnovers to a respectable 10.
What impressed Nolan was the RedHawks recovered against a foe that had flexed some defensive muscle during the season. St. Viator held Loyola Academy to 21 points in a nonconference contest and surrendered only 34 St. Patrick in an ESCC clash.
“They’re a team that can really guard,” Nolan said of the Lions. “In a year of [greater] parity [in the ESCC] they probably would have been picked to finish first -- deservedly so. St. Viator’s good.”
Bradley Hill had 14 points and two steals to pace the RedHawks in both categories while Commander added 13 points and a team-best four assists. No one else tallied in double figures, but Lerma and Jeremiah Ferguson both had six points and the former tied Brown for the rebounding lead as each player grabbed six.
The RedHawks met fellow ESCC member Marian Catholic this past Tuesday in a Bloom Regional matchup. Marist beat the Spartans during the regular season but not without a bit of a struggle.
St. Viator 59
Marist Scoring: Hill 14, Commander 13, Ferguson 6, Lerma 6, Brown 4, Barry 3, Hawkins 3, Weaver 2. Rebounds: Brown 6, Lerma 6. Assists: Commander 4. Steals: Hill 2.