By Randy Whalen
Brother Rice believed they could beat Marian Catholic.
It is likely not many other people did. After all, the Crusaders hadn't beaten the Spartans in eight seasons and was walloped by them just over a month prior to their meeting in the Class 4A Marian Catholic regional championship game on March 6.
Rice managed to hang with favored Marian all game before falling, 72-62.
The regional title was the third straight and sixth in eight seasons for Marian (24-8) which advanced to the Bloom Sectional to face the host Blazing Trojans (28-5) on March 10.
The Crusaders (21-11) finished with 21 wins for the third time in four seasons and was bidding for its third regional title in the past four years, but lost in a regional championship game for the second straight season.
"There were 19 guys here that thought we would win," Crusaders senior point guard Conor Glennon said of himself and all his teammates. "We prepared and did everything we could do."
Playing in his final high school game after three-years on the varsity, Glennon dished out 8 assists to go along with 2 points. Fellow seniors Deandre Hagen (18 points, 6 rebounds), Rico Powell (17 points, 7 rebounds) and Colin Campbell (14 points), along with junior guard Garrett Green (11 points) led Rice.
Despite the Crusader's efforts to stop him, Marian senior guard Ahron Ulis, who has committed to Iowa, scored a game-high 24 points.
"We went triangle-and-two to take Ulis out of the game," Rice coach Bobby Frasor said of his team’s defensive strategy against Ulis. "That was our gamble. Then they had other guys hit threes. We were like, 'here is our game plan,' and they counterpunched."
A big hit came from Spartans senior guard Elijah Jones, who finished with 18 points and 7 rebounds. While Ulis was taken out of the game early on, Jones poured in the first 14 points for the Spartans. He kept them right in it during the opening quarter, which had seven lead changes and two ties.
Powell popped in a 3-pointer to start a 12-7 Crusaders spurt to open the period, then capped it with another trey at the four-minute mark to give Rice its largest lead at 30-25.
Ulis, however, started getting free and was able to connect on a trio of 3-pointers to end the half. Those were the final nine points in an 11-2 burst that put Marian Catholic ahead for good.
The closest the Crusaders got the rest of the way was 48-45 on a Powell three with 3:55 left in the third. But Marian Catholic had a 9-2 stretch to end the quarter and lead 57-47 after three quarters.
Layups by Hagan and Glennon pulled Brother Rice within 57-51 just over a minute into the fourth quarter. But it wouldn't get any closer.
"We had a terrific game plan," Glennon said. "They [the Spartans] are loaded with talent and took it to us. But we were not going to let them walk over us. We were going to be ready to fight."
The Crusaders opened the postseason on Tuesday, March 4 with a 62-47 victory over Sandburg. Powell tallied 17 points and Hagan added 15 points. Sandburg (12-17) was paced by 15 points from senior guard Atharva Atreya.
Eight seniors will graduate from this season's Brother Rice squad: Campbell, Hagan, Powell, Glennon, Greg Foster, Sean Joyce, Kevin Phelan and Kevin Tracy.
"Our earlier game against [Marian Catholic] wasn't good," Frasor said of the 55-31 loss on Feb. 4. "But we beat Loyola and they are one of the best teams in the state. We had some big wins this season. I told our seniors – Conor, who I had for three years, and the rest of them – that I really enjoyed having them."