Niego sets record in Crusaders’ romp
Call it a period piece.
For one quarter, Quinn Niego was the whole story last Wednesday night. Brother Rice’s senior star had already made his identity well known to Crusaders foes long before that, but nothing could have adequately prepared visiting Bishop McNamara for what Niego unleashed on it during the opening stanza of the teams’ Chicago Catholic League matchup.
Using five 3-point baskets as the main thrust, Niego torched the Fightin’ Irish with 19 points over the first eight minutes, an output that placed his name atop Rice annals for single-session scoring. His total was one more than the previous school standard, which was shared by Mike Kennedy (Class of 2008) and former two-time Player of the Year Jimmy Sexton (1994).
Niego only tallied four points after that, but his initial explosion keyed a 27-point frame for the Crusaders and laid the groundwork for a 66-46 victory in Chicago.
“I’ve been telling him since I got here that he’s a college-caliber player,” Rice coach Rick Harrigan said. “We push him a lot, but it’s easy to coach a player like that.
“When players feel that good, you let the game flow as much as you can. You don’t call timeouts; you leave him alone and let him go.”
With Niego serving as ringleader, the Crusaders (7-7, 2-3) constructed a hefty 15-point cushion for themselves, which definitely ran counter to the slow starts that Harrigan termed a “sore spot” for Rice on several other occasions this season. Bishop Mac battled its hosts on pretty even terms afterward, but the Irish needed more than that in order to make a legitimate run at the Crusaders.
“We played pretty good,” Harrigan said. “It was our first Catholic League game in the new year and a home game, so it was important for us to get.”
Rice split four contests at York’s holiday tournament right after Christmas, but Harrigan thought his club still lacked steadiness. Both of the defeats, he felt, had been winnable games for the Crusaders.
“It sounds simple, but we’ve played good in our wins and not very good in our losses,” Harrigan said. “We want more consistency.”
He certainly got it in this instance, as Niego’s scoring wasn’t the only noteworthy part of Rice’s exhibition. Also making life good for the home team were 52 percent shooting — including 44 percent (8-of-18) from 3-point land — a 29-17 rebounding edge and 14-3 assists-to-turnovers ratio.
“We’ve been encouraging our guys to take better care of the ball,” Harrigan said. “We’ve got to make it a point to get a shot on every possession, and [we] don’t [want to] settle for a good shot. Get a great shot.”
Besides his points, Niego aided the Crusaders with 11 rebounds and three assists. His primary cohort was fellow senior Ray Rubio, who provided Rice with 18 points, seven rebounds and two assists.
Having that duo carry a big chunk of the load wasn’t anything unusual for the Crusaders. Making it mean more was measurable input from a third party, Dan Scanlon, who netted a dozen points.
“Scanlon gets a lot of hustle plays,” Harrigan said of the senior, who was an all-area selection in football during the fall. “His energy is important to us.”
Also key to Rice’s success here was credible defense, which forced the Irish into 11 turnovers and held them to a 42 percent accuracy rate from the field.
The game was rescheduled from Tuesday, when school closures across the area forced postponement of all activities that day. The Crusaders also failed to hit the court for their other slated contest against Hales Franciscan on Friday because of weather-created problems.
That game will be played Saturday at 5 p.m. at Hales. Rice hosted Nazareth Academy this past Tuesday, and Harrigan hopes that his athletes gained a big pick-me-up from their Wednesday conquest.
“Teams are either getting better or worse at this point of the season,” he said. “We can’t just go through the motions.”
Bishop Mac 12 11 16 7 - 46
Brother Rice 27 13 15 11 - 66
Brother Rice Scoring: Niego 23, Rubio 18, Scanlon 12, Gallagher 7, Conlisk 6. Rebounds: Niego 11, Rubio 7. Assists: Niego 3.