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Marist's Lexus Williams drops in a shot over Notre Dame's Duante Stephens. | Patrick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media
This early in the season, even the most elite teams are struggling to define roles and get in a proper offensive and defensive rhythm.
Notre Dame is a step ahead. The Dons have a rock-solid group of seniors in the starting five with Air Force recruit Matt Mooney, Donte Stephenson, Eddie Serrano, Justin Halloran and Jake Maestranzi. Duante Stephens, a strong 6-3 junior, is the “sixth starter.” All six have clearly defined roles.
“[Coach Tom Les] always says we have to play our roles,” Mooney said. “Don’t try to do too much, that’s when you look bad.”
Almost nothing looked bad for Notre Dame on Friday in Niles. The Dons dominated the second half and rolled to a 65-51 win over Marist.
Mooney, the team’s best all-around player, scored 20 points in a variety of ways. He drained threes, hit turnaround jumpers — and most importantly, cleaned up a lot of his own misses for scores. Mooney finished with eight rebounds.
“[Rebounding] is an issue for us and it’s not going to go away,” Marist coach Gene Nolan said. “We are challenged in that area.”
That area was supposed to be the domain of 6-5 Nic Weishar, but the star football player will miss most of the season with a shoulder injury.
“[Rebounding] is going to have to be everybody’s job,” Nolan said. “Size is an issue for us.”
The RedHawks (4-1, 0-1) were right in the game at halftime, trailing by just two points. Guards LJ McIntosh (23 points) and Lexus Williams (seven points, nine rebounds) were hot from outside.
But the Dons (7-1, 1-0) steamrolled through the third quarter, with each starter doing what he does best. Mooney was all over the court, Maestranzi was running the show, Halloran (14 points, five rebounds) was draining threes, Stephenson (13 points) was driving the baseline and Serrano (eight rebounds) was grabbing boards.
“They played a lot of tough games last year,” Les said. “And they put in the effort in conditioning and the weight room this summer.”
Mooney and Halloran have made great strides since last season. Halloran is 6-6 and his sharpshooting would be difficult to contain even if he was heavily guarded, but that hasn’t been the case so far this season.
“I really don’t know why [Halloran doesn’t draw more attention],” Mooney said. “He can really shoot it.”
Notre Dame was neck-and-neck with Morgan Park on Sunday, before falling short in the fourth quarter. That game was on the Dons’ minds on Friday.
“It was really difficult,” Halloran said. “We really wanted that game. They are a top-three team in the state and we proved we could play with them, could lead them for three quarters.”