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Marian Catholic's Terrone Parham (center) rips the ball away from Brother Rice's Jim Barista (right) during a varsity basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. | John Smierciak~for Sun-Times Media
Tyler Ulis walked the ball up court, game tied at 67 and 19 seconds remaining on the clock.
The crowd, which included Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, stood on its feet, waiting to see what the 5-foot-9, junior whiz kid was going to do.
What he would do is shake off the tough defense of Brother Rice’s Ray Rubio and hit a seven-foot floater just before the buzzer sounded to give No. 8 Marian Catholic a thrilling 69-67 win over No. 18 Brother Rice in Chicago Heights.
“I really didn’t have a specific shot that I was going to take,” Ulis said. “I wanted to see how he (Rubio) was going to defend me. I had missed my last three (-point attempt), so I wanted to get in the lane and maybe draw a foul.”
Instead, he drew a wildly enthusiastic cheer from a boisterous Spartans student section after his shot fell softly through the net.
Ulis finished with a team-high 25 points, but he was far from a one-man show on this night. Terrone Parham played Robin to Ulis’ Batman, hitting four three-pointers and finishing with 18 points. Kevin Phillips came off the bench and was effective inside, registering eight points for Marian, which broke the school record for wins in a season with 21.
“I probably should have trapped Tyler at the end of the game,” Rice coach Pat Richardson said of the Crusaders’ decision to go man-to-man on the final play. “We knew he wasn’t going to pass it. I thought our best bet was to just dig in. We’ve played against Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Antoine Walker. I don’t think there’s anybody harder to guard than Tyler Ulis.”
Alex Majewski was a beast all night for Rice (17-3). The senior finished with 29 points, converting 12-of-13 field-goal attempts. The Crusaders were 24-of-42 from the field on the night, the Spartans 27-of-45.
“We knew we could get the ball inside to Alex,” Richardson said. “He made shots down there.”
Rice looked left for dead when it trailed 61-46 midway through the fourth period. The Crusaders, however, ripped off a 20-4 run to take a 66-65 lead on a Majewski bucket with 47.8 seconds left.
“No, I don’t think we thought we had it locked up,” said Ulis of allowing Rice to claw its way back. “They never gave up. The played really hard and they were knocking down shots.”
Cal Kennedy split two free throws with 19.7 seconds left, tying the game at 67 after Phillips had given the Spartans a 67-66 lead moments earlier.
Quinn Niego, Jim Barista (15 points) and Cal Kennedy (15) each hit three-pointers and Majewski added six points during Rice’s comeback.
“I’m proud of our effort and the way we came back,” Richardson said. “But I’m extremely disappointed in how unaggressive we were on offense, especially in the first half.”
Marian led 32-25 at halftime. Ulis was the catalyst, scoring 12 points in the opening 16 minutes. His three-point play erased a one-point deficit and gave the Spartans a 19-17 lead.
It was an advantage that would only widen the rest of the second quarter. Each time Rice cut into the deficit, Marian had an answer.
A three by Barista cut the gap to 26-23, but Chris Austin and Parham answered with long bombs of their own to give Marian a seven-point advantage at intermission.
“Everybody played hard on the defensive end,” Ulis said . “I’m very proud of the team.”