Brother Rice guard Marcos Gonzalez drives to the basket during the Crusaders' loss to Thornton in the IHSA Class 3A Thornton Sectional Final. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

Brother Rice guard Marcos Gonzalez drives to the basket during the Crusaders' loss to Thornton in the IHSA Class 3A Thornton Sectional Final. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

Boys Basketball Class 3A Playoffs | Thornton tops Brother Rice to advance to UIC Supersectional

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By Xavier Sanchez
Correspondent

Brother Rice went toe-to-toe with Thornton in a hostile environment, but the Wildcats did what potential state championship teams do and played their best ball late to pull out a 61-54 win in the Class 3A Thornton Sectional title game.

The game was played at the Wildcats’ home gym in Harvey, where their only loss this season was a 65-63 defeat to Class 4A supersectional qualifier Homewood-Flossmoor.

The Crusaders (31-4) were confident and ready to compete against the hosts and the state’s top high-school player, Morez Johnson. They fought for all 32 minutes, battling back from a 10-point halftime deficit to tie the game late in the third quarter.

But the Wildcats offense went to work early in the fourth quarter, shifting the momentum of the game and the energy in the classic fieldhouse.

Rice coach Conte Stamas noted his Crusaders — especially in the days leading up to their matchup against the Wildcats — never wavered in the face of strong competition.

BR Hoops Caden Workman scaled

Brother Rice junior guard Caden Workman fights his way to a basket during the Crusaders’ season-ending loss to Thornton. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

“The thing about this team … they were never intimidated, no matter who they were going to go up against,” Stamas said.“You hate to see it end for such a great group of guys. I told them I am proud of them and that I am proud to be their coach.”

Malik Holton (8 points) was an early X-factor for the Wildcats after replacing Meyoh Swansey, who picked up two early fouls. Holton made two threes in the first quarter, one which gave Thornton a 19-8 lead.

“The big thing was they came out and hit a lot of 3s on us early,” Stamas said. “That really hurt us. We weren’t close enough to defend them.”

The Crusaders limited Johnson to three first-half points, but the Wildcats led 32-22 lead at the break.

Rice surged in the third, briefly tying the game at 39 and outscoring Thornton 17-10. Seven of those points came from guard, Cale Cosme (14 points).

Swansey hit a 3-pointer to break the tie, and later hit from long-range to open the fourth quarter and give the Wildcats a 46-39 lead. Rice never seriously threatened after that.

Junior guard Marcos Gonzalez led the Crusaders with 17 points. Senior Zavier Fitch finished with nine points and 11 rebounds and Cade Workman added eight points.

BR Hoops Cosme trey scaled

Brother Rice senior Cale Cosme prepares to launch a 3-pointer during the Class 3A Thornton Sectional title game on March 2. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

Johnson scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds to help Thornton to its first sectional championship since 2009. Chase Abraham scored 17 points for the Wildcats.

The Crusaders had to come from behind to win a few games this season.

“Keep swimming and keep fighting, and we did that, just came up a little short,” Cosme said.

Cosme is headed to Lewis University this fall to play basketball for the Flyers. He said the returning Crusaders have “a bright future.”

Gonzales, for one, is still hungry for more.

“I lost this game two years in a row,” he said, referring to Rice playing in a sectional title game in 2023. “The end goal is to always end up in Champaign. I am going to do everything I can to get there and do what we do.”

Stamas has accumulated 61 wins in his first two seasons at Rice and feels good about the future of his team.

“I think we have a nucleus to come back and have another good season next year,” he said.

BR Hoops Gonzo shot scaled

Brother Rice’s Marcos Gonzalez goes up for shot in the Crusaders’ loss to Thornton in the Class 3A Thornton Sectional championship game. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

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