Win over EP tightens Bulldogs’ first-place grip
Eight was great, but nine will be even finer.
To borrow from former NBA coach Dick Motta, the fat lady hasn’t yet begun singing, but she’s certainly in full voice warm-up mode. In real terms, that means Richards is on the verge of yet another South Suburban Conference Red championship.
Nothing is yet official, but a victory over Shepard on Friday will guarantee the Bulldogs at least a share of their ninth consecutive league crown.
“I don’t think they will stumble anymore,” Evergreen Park coach Pat Flannigan said of Richards. “They’ve got a real nice team and I think they’re going to start clicking.”
Flannigan got a firsthand look at the Bulldogs in action last Friday, as they invaded Evergreen and made off with a 66-58 triumph. The visitors were actually ahead by as many as 18 points during the second half before the Mustangs made a late charge.
“You don’t expect Evergreen to say, ‘Go ahead and beat us by 30,’” Richards coach John Chappetto said. “They’ve got some good athletes and a good coach in Pat, and we’ve got a little bit of a rivalry with them after football [season].”
Down 54-36 three minutes into the final frame, the Mustangs (10-11, 1-9) forced three straight Bulldogs turnovers and a total of seven over the remaining time. Offensively, Issac Matthews (three baskets, one free throw) and Jacquet McClendon (3-pointer, field goal) led the hosts’ comeback bid.
McClendon’s long ball brought Evergreen within 62-56, but Richards (14-9, 7-2) was able to stave off the Mustangs with some unexpectedly crisp foul shooting. The Bulldogs went 11-of-12 at the free-throw line in the fourth period.
“If we play another five minutes, maybe they win,” Chappetto said. “When you’re playing only five or six guys in the second half, they’re tired [down the stretch] and you thank God your lead’s big enough [to hang on].”
Richards constructed its advantage during the third quarter, when Spencer Tears canned three 3-pointers and hit a dunk and Josh Meier converted a three-point play to fuel the ‘Dogs’ attack. While that was happening, Evergreen’s offense was being limited to three points over the first 5:17 of the period, as it misfired five times and turned the ball over twice.
“When we were down, we kind of panicked [for a while],” Flannigan said. “Kids these days don’t like getting their shots blocked, and it felt like Josh had about 10. We told them they just had to ride it out — leave their egos at the door and keep attacking.
“Our kids, I applaud them. They could have just quit, but I think they played their hearts out. It’s a shame [we lost].”
Flannigan credited his defense with lighting a fire beneath the Mustangs.
“We were forced to go to a man-to-man, so we pressed and got on a little run,” he said. “People asked me, ‘Why didn’t you pressure them the whole game?’ Maybe we waited too long, but we’re not real deep and we don’t want to have guys get in foul trouble, so we have to pick our spots.”
Matthews (22 points, five steals, three assists) and McClendon (14 points, seven rebounds, three assists) were the top guns for Evergreen, which shot 35 percent from the floor and was guilty of 13 miscues. Meier (27 points) and Tears (20) led the way for the Bulldogs, who’ll now attempt to maintain their program’s long ownership of the SSC Red title.
“It’s definitely something to be proud of,” Chappetto said. “When you’re in the midst of doing it and there’s that pressure to continue, you don’t think much about it until you hear about schools who haven’t won one ever.
“This is like a third generation, or even fourth generation [doing it], and it’s something to play for. If we can win a conference title, it’s something nice to have.”
Marian Catholic 72
The Bulldogs got ready for their encounter with Evergreen by tangling with the state-ranked Spartans last Tuesday in a game that had been originally scheduled to take place Jan. 7.
Late in the third stanza, Richards found itself within four of Marian Catholic, but the latter then used a 14-0 run to seize control. University of Kentucky-bound guard Tyler Ulis got the surge started by hitting a floater over Meier, who blocked five other Spartans shots in the contest.
“Quite honestly, it was over at that point,” said Chappetto, whose squad unintentionally aided Marian’s clinching run with three straight turnovers in the early portion of it. “We couldn’t do anything to really stop them.
“We played OK for a while, but they’re really good. They’re worthy of the hype.”
Chappetto knew the Bulldogs would not be favored in that game, but he felt it was a much better preparation for Friday’s SSC Red affair than a Tuesday practice would have been. And, he said, his athletes were anxious to test themselves against a widely heralded foe.
“Our kids have been looking forward to this game since we scheduled it, almost to a distraction,” Chappetto said. “Every game’s important to me, but they’re kids. [But] you really have nothing to lose and a lot of things to gain playing in a game like that.”
Tears (19 points), Meier (14 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks) and Dedrick Shannon (eight points, seven assists) were Richards’ main men. The Bulldogs outshot Marian 43 to 40 percent, but were harmed by 24 turnovers, which were three times as many as the Spartans committed.
“Ulis, Ki-Jana Crawford and Josh Cohn are as good on-the-ball defensive guards as I’ve seen in high school basketball in a long time,” Chappetto said. “Almost every time they get a chance to turn you over, they do and they capitalize on it.”
Evergreen Park 62
Agricultural Science 45
As was the case for the Mustangs versus Richards, the Cyclones entered last Tuesday’s nonconference matchup wearing the underdog’s label. And like Evergreen was to do in that later game, Chicago Agricultural Science gave its opponent a battle.
“Their kids played extremely hard,” Flannigan said. “You’ve got to get a couple extra possessions when that ball’s rolling around loose, and they did that against us.
“We played well in spurts and we had a couple chances to blow it open, but there were [also] a couple minutes where we played poorly.”
The Mustangs forced the Cyclones to play catch-up right away, as a 15-0 blitz put the former in control during the opening frame. Tony Weathersby contributed a 3-pointer, two other buckets and a pair of free throws to the run, while McClendon and Tobi Oladejo dropped in three hoops between them.
Agricultural Science never got closer than six points after that, but it drew within 47-40 again in the third period before McClendon (two baskets), Oladejo (one) and Weathersby (three charity tosses) triggered a 9-1 spurt that finally put the Cyclones down for good. Agricultural Science missed six shots during that span.
Weathersby posted a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds to pace Evergreen in both categories, while Matthews (12 points) and McClendon (11 points, five steals) also scored in double digits. Joe Moran made five steals as well for the Mustangs, who totaled 17 for the evening.
Evergreen played at Leo on Tuesday, which was a homecoming of sorts for Flannigan, who was an assistant coach for three years at the Chicago Catholic League School. An SSC Red date at Reavis awaits the Mustangs on Friday.
Richards 10 16 18 22 - 66
Evergreen Park 6 19 7 26 - 58
Richards Scoring: Meier 27, Tears 20, Listenbee 6, Shannon 5, Anagnostopolous 4, Alexander 2, Catledge 2.
Evergreen Park Scoring: Matthews 22, McClendon 14, Weathersby 8, Brown 5, Oladejo 5, Cheatham 4. Rebounds: Brown 7, McClendon 7, Cheatham 6. Assists: Matthews 3, McClendon 3. Steals: Matthews 5.
Richards 14 17 14 13 - 58
Marian Catholic 21 21 21 9 - 72
Richards Scoring: Tears 19, Meier 14, Shannon 8, T. Othman 6, Anagnostopolous 4, Catledge 4, Alexander 3. Rebounds: Meier 10. Assists: Shannon 7. Blocks: Meier 5.
Agricultural Science 14 5 17 9 - 45
Evergreen Park 20 13 12 17 - 62
Evergreen Park Scoring: Weathersby 20, Matthews 12, McClendon 11, Oladejo 7, Moran 4, Hughes 3, Quigley 3, Issaka 2. Rebounds: Weathersby 11, Brown 7. Assists: Oladejo 5. Steals: McClendon 5, Moran 5.