Cut by close shave
Rice narrowly misses out on beating Meteors
The champs nearly became chumps.
After winning the inaugural Chicago Catholic League Tournament by scoring wins over such heavy hitters as Mt. Carmel and Loyola Academy, De La Salle understandably housed big aspirations heading into last week’s Class 4A Whitney Young Regional. But the path to Friday’s title contest proved treacherous.
That probably should have been expected, seeing as how the Meteors’ semifinal foe, Brother Rice, had already given them a battle during the regular season. De La Salle prevailed then by just three points, and last Tuesday’s rematch was every bit as competitive.
The Crusaders, in fact, entered the fourth quarter ahead by four points, and they were still knotted up with the Meteors midway through the stanza. But when Karl Harris dropped in a tie-breaking 3-pointer, De La Salle went in front to stay.
Rice did get a couple more chances to again pull even, but was off the mark with both a long ball and layup, shots that were bridged by a steal. The Crusaders ultimately suffered a season-ending 65-59 setback to the Meteors.
“It was a summation of our season,” Rice coach Rick Harrigan said. “Effort- and teamwork-wise, we had a chance. We had opportunities to tie and stay right there [because] guys were making plays and making shots, but [De La Salle] just made a few more.
“It’s bittersweet. We played these really good top-25 teams in the area and the state, and it was great to compete and not give in. But obviously we would have liked to have gotten a few more of those [in the victory column].”
Ray Rubio (20 points, three rebounds), Quinn Niego (12 points, five rebounds), Connor Finn (11 points), Dan Scanlon (eight points, six assists, three steals) and Luke Mueller (six points, eight rebounds) all rated as Crusaders headliners, but their exploits were offset by those of Harris (26 points), Martez Cameron (19) and Tyler Lewis (11) on the Meteors’ behalf. Ten of Harris’ markers came in the fourth period, and he was a perfect 7-of-7 from the field in the second half.
For the game, De La Salle clicked on 52 percent of its shots, compared to 48 percent for Rice. The Crusaders did hold a slight rebounding edge and distributed seven more assists.
Rice (14-14) trailed 33-30 at halftime, but a string of three 3-point buckets on consecutive possessions eased the Crusaders into a 41-37 lead. Even though that advantage was unable to be maintained until the end, Harrigan had only positive things to say about his guys’ performance.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our kids,” he said. “They stuck together and, overall, it was a successful year. Every kid who put on that uniform represented the program with pride and integrity, and they were all receptive to what we were doing and committed to the team.
“Wins and losses are a big deal, but that’s not the only thing [used to measure achievement]. It was a fun season.”
Harrigan had special praise for seniors Rubio and Niego, who’ll play next year for Loras (Iowa) College and St. Xavier University, respectively.
“I never had to go through that as a senior,” Harrigan said, referring to the coaching change made necessary by Pat Richardson’s resignation last spring. “It would have been easy for them to buck the system and not buy in [to my teachings], but that didn’t happen.”
While Rubio and Niego will be difficult to replace, Finn is one of six juniors on the current roster who should return for the 2014-15 season. Harrigan will also be able to tap into two solid lower-level programs for reinforcements — both the freshman and sophomore contingents at Rice finished first in the Catholic League standings.
“It’s not empty around here,” Harrigan said. “We’re looking for Connor to be an important guy, and we kind of rode him a little about that. He played well at the end of the year.
“But the biggest thing is that the younger guys need to pick up on how hard it is [to adjust] on the varsity level. The speed, size and strength are so much different.”
Harrigan plans to waste no time in beginning the acclimation process. After a week off, he wants to get offseason conditioning sessions underway.
“There’s no rest for the weary,” Harrigan said with a chuckle.
Brother Rice 16 14 20 9 - 59
De La Salle 13 20 13 19 - 65
Brother Rice Scoring: Rubio 20, Niego 12, Finn 11, Scanlon 8, Mueller 6, Gallagher 2. Rebounds: Mueller 8, Niego 5. Assists: Scanlon 6. Steals: Scanlon 3.