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Jim Barista took charge when Brother Rice needed it.
The senior guard struck for 23 points --10 of which came in the decisive third quarter -- to help the visiting Crusaders (15-2) fight off an upset bid by host Nazareth (8-7) and win 65-54 Tuesday night.
“The last few games I’ve played pretty badly, and Coach (Pat Richardson) told me to be more assertive,” Barista said. “I found myself open with some good screens from my teammates and on fast breaks, I took the shots and I was confident.”
Cal Kennedy (18 points, eight rebounds), Alex Majewski (13 points) and Quinn Niego (seven points, six rebounds) also were key offensive contributors for Brother Rice.
“They’re a team of spurts,” Nazareth coach John Bonk said. “They have a lot of weapons, and Pat does a great job with them. They all know their roles, and that’s why they’re having the year they are.”
After a 10-3 run to close the third quarter gave the Crusaders a 49-42 lead, Kennedy helped seal the win with a nine-point fourth quarter.
“Cal (Kennedy) hit some big shots, including a big three late (to put Brother Rice up 54-45),” Richardson said. “And I thought Jimmy Barista had a fantastic game for us. He shot the ball well and defended his man well.
“We have a lot of guys who can score, so it’s hard to guard us. And Ray Rubio has been a really good defender. He did a good job on Johnny Bonk, who’s such a tough kid to guard.”
The Nazareth coach’s son, Bonk scored 16 points in teaming with Tim Kuckailis (17 points), Dan Kienzle (seven points) and George Kiernan (six points, nine rebounds) to lead the Roadrunners’ upset bid.
“We’re pretty happy with our effort throughout the game,” coach Bonk said. “There were a couple possessions offensively where we were a little stagnant, but they’re a good team. We’ve been really proud of our guys the last two games. If our effort was like that all year we would have won more games going in to this week.”
“They are a good team, hard to play, playing at home,” Richardson said of Nazareth. “We saw them play Notre Dame and take them to overtime.”
Brother Rice made its first five three-point attempts Tuesday to shoot to a 23-14 lead late in the first quarter, but Nazareth clawed back to within 30-29 at halftime.
“I feel like we rebounded badly in the first half,” Barista said, “then started to do better in the second half. Our defense picked up a little bit, and we kind of woke up. We realized we were going to lose if we didn’t start playing like we can. I still don’t think we played as well as we can, but we were better than in the first half.
“We wanted to win really badly going into our big rivalry game next week against Marist,” Barista added. “In order for a good (sectional) seed we have to basically win out. Every win is important, especially on the road.”
Nazareth made just 5 of 23 three-point attempts on the night (1 of 10 in the second half). Brother Rice was 10 of 23 beyond the arc overall.
“We may not make all the basketball plays all the time, but we’re playing harder and executing better,” Bonk said. “We battled. We need to build on this. Our schedule is a bear, and for a reason. We want to get ready for late in the season, and I think we’ve gotten better the last two games.”