Brother Rice senior Ahmad Henderson scored 34 points, 29 of them in the second half, to help the Crusaders defeat St. Rita in a Class 4A sectional semifinal on March 1. He sustained an injury that kept him largely off the court in the sectional final against Kenwood. Photo by Jeff Vorva
Boys Basketball | Kenwood tops Brother Rice in sectional final
By Steve Millar
First-year Brother Rice coach Conte Stamas only got to spend one season with Ahmad Henderson, but he found out pretty quickly how special of a player he had in the star senior guard.
Henderson has a knack for playing his best in the biggest moments.
“When the game is on the line, he really steps up,” Stamas said. “He’s special in special moments.”
Henderson was certainly special in the Class 4A St. Rita Sectional semifinals against the host Mustangs on March 1. He poured in 34 points — 29 in the second half — to lead the second-seeded Crusaders to a 72-65 win over St. Rita in front of a loud, standing-room only crowd.
“It was crazy,” Henderson said. “These are the types of games you look forward to playing in from the start of the season. I knew in my mind that I could get mine whenever I wanted. In the first half, I was trying to get my teammates involved and in the second half, it kind of clicked in my head that they were going to need me to score, so that’s what I did.”
Unfortunately for Henderson and the Crusaders, Henderson injured his ankle in the first minute of the sectional championship game against Kenwood on March 3, and his time on the court was limited the rest of the game.
Brother Rice fought tough in his absence, but fell just short in a 72-67 loss to the Broncos. That ended the season for the Crusaders (30-5), who won 30 games for the first time in program history.
In the win over St. Rita, senior guard Nick Niego hit five 3-pointers for 15 points, senior forward Khalil Ross contributed 13 points and eight rebounds and junior forward Zavier Fitch had seven points.
Nashawn Holmes led St. Rita (23-11) with 16 points. North Carolina recruit James Brown, Iowa State recruit Nojus Indrusaitis and Melvin Bell scored 11 points each, while Illinois recruit Morez Johnson had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Mustangs led by as many as 13 points in the second quarter but could not hold off Henderson and Niego down the stretch.
The loss to Rice ended a season that began with huge expectations for St. Rita, after the additions of Indrusaitis from Lemont and Holmes from Homewood-Flossmoor.
The Mustangs took on a loaded national schedule and took some tough losses along the way, but Holmes was proud of the way the Mustangs stuck together.
“We never let up,” Holmes said. “We continued to work hard through the doubt from people talking about the losses we had. We kept fighting all season. It’s tough to lose this one. It’s my last high school game, but we went out fighting. That’s all I can ask for.”
Henderson drilled a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the first half and pull the Crusaders within 32-24. That gave Brother Rice some momentum.
The Crusaders were able to stop St. Rita’s three major recruits — Johnson, Indrusaitis and Brown — from going off in the second half.
“That was the gameplan, try to limit those three and make some other guys beat us,” Stamas said. “They have a lot of good players and are a terrific team. We just kept hanging in there. We said if we could get to half in single digits, we’d be OK. That was a big shot that Ahmad hit before the half.
“Early on, we were taking some shots that we don’t normally take, but in the second half, we settled in.”
Henderson scored seven points during a 14-5 surge to open the third quarter that gave the Crusaders the lead.
The Mustangs rebounded to take a 48-46 edge into the fourth quarter, but Niego opened the fourth with two 3-pointers.
Henderson knocked down a pull-up jumper and a 3-pointer to put the Crusaders in front, then hit 12 of 14 free throws over the final two minutes to seal the victory.
“Once they knew they had to foul us, I got that feeling that we definitely had them,” Henderson said. “That was a great feeling.”
In the loss to Kenwood, junior guard Cale Cosme poured in 27 points, Ross had 18 points and nine rebounds, and Fitch finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
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