Crusaders fill in the blank in a big way

  • Written by Phil Arvia



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice’s Mike Shepski shoots what turns out to be the game-tying basket to send Tuesday’s game into overtime, and the Crusaders won, 73-65.


Before Tuesday’s visit from neighborhood rival Marist, Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor said his team was in need of a “signature win.”

So among his three keys for the game with the previously unbeaten RedHawks — after “box out” and “compete” — was a blank line.

“I told them, we beat Marist, we come back in here and sign the board,” Frasor said. 

After a 73-65, overtime win before a packed house at Brother Rice, the Crusaders signed their declaration of relevance.

“We got that signature win,” Frasor said. “I kind of feel like it’s a statement that Brother Rice is back.”

If so, the Crusaders (16-3) got back on the backs of Mike Shepski and Josh Niego, who combined for 55 points. Four days after scoring 22 points in a 65-45 win Friday over Mount Carmel, Shepski had 29 and hit 6-of-8 3-point attempts on the way to breaking Sean O’Reilly’s career mark at Rice.

Shepski, who now has 197 3-pointers to O’Reilly’s 195, broke the mark as Brother Rice scrambled back from five points down in the final 40 seconds of regulation. At that juncture, he hit a 24-footer from the wing, and with five seconds remaining he banked in an off-balance leaner after faking one defender off his feet to force overtime.

Shepski calls those not-quite-textbook efforts “Dirk-like shots,” after inventive NBA big man Dirk Nowitzki.

“I try to be diverse in my shots,” he said. “But I wasn’t thinking about me being the guy to break the record, to make the big shots.

“Guys like Josh (Boulanger) and (Brendan Coghlan) stepped up for us and made some really big shots tonight.”

Coghlan had 10 points in regulation, taking and making one 3-pointer and each of the last three quarters. Boulanger converted a crucial three-point-play with 55 seconds left in the overtime after a driving Niego dropped him a pass on the low block, giving Rice a lead, at 67-65, they’d not relinquish.

That was after Niego (26 points) opened the extra period with a 3-pointer from the top of the key and a pair of free throws. Marist (19-1) rallied to tie on a three from Morgan Taylor (18 points) and runner from Maurice Commander (12).

Then Niego found Boulanger for a layup, the RedHawks’ Justin Brown fouling out while going for the block.

“I got bumped, I saw Brown coming out to block my shot, so I threw Josh the pass,” Niego said. “In practice I’ll drop them to him and he’ll miss. As long as he makes them in the games.”

Without Brown, who scored 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting and added 19 rebounds after scoring 17 with 15 boards in Marist’s 56-53 Friday win over Marian Catholic, the RedHawks went scoreless the rest of the way.

While the loss might impact Marist’s postseason seeding — both the RedHawks and the Crusaders are in the Thornwood Sectional — coach Gene Nolan was unconcerned.

“It was a game of big shots,” he said. “Our kids made some, their kids made more.

“Shepski and Niego are really good, they’re really difficult covers. We’ll get better for playing this game.”

In the immediate aftermath, of course, all the positives were flowing Rice’s way. Even O’Reilly, now a freshman coach at the school, was happy on the night his record fell.

“There’s no better scenario than this,” O’Reilly, a 2008 graduate, said. “Mike’s a great player, a hard worker, and I was 0-3 against Marist. It’s perfect.”

“Our signature win,” Shepski said. “One I’ve waiting for. I loved our team last year — we played hard, and we’d hang around — but we’d end up losing close games to good schools.

“This was awesome.”