Marian Catholic entered 42nd annual McDipper as the two-time defending champion, courtesy of McDonald’s All-American Tyler Ulis, who now plays for No. 1 Kentucky.
This year, the Spartans are young, small and playing with nothing to lose. They played that way in their first-round matchup against Crete-Monee and advanced to the quarterfinals with a decisive 63-49 win Friday.
They’ll meet the winner of Thornton vs. Seton at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“We have to just play,” said 6-2 sophomore forward Austin Richie, who asserted himself on the boards in the second half. Richie grabbed all five of his rebounds and eight points in the final two quarters.
“We do recognize that we are the two-time champions but we have to play, play with effort and it will come,” Richie said. “Tyler is gone and we know how great that team was and we are a young team and it will come together.”
Things came together for the Spartans (5-6) late in the first quarter and early in the second when they broke a 12-12 tie with a 9-0 run for a 21-12 lead. Thaddeus Newly started the run with the first of his five 3-pointers. He finished with a team-high 17 points.
The Spartans held at least a seven-point lead for the remainder of the game. The Spartans had two other players in double figures: 5-8 freshman Brandon Hurt (10 points) and 6-7 junior Myles Howard (10 points, eight rebounds).
“We have some guards who are learning real quick but we got our best performance tonight from Myles Howard on the boards,” Marian Catholic coach Mike Taylor said. “Our guards hit some big shots but they did turn it over a lot.
“The only thing we told these kids was to come out and compete.”
The Warriors (6-4), to the dismay of coach Tom Cappel, committed 13 turnovers to Marian’s 10 and gave up eight 3-pointers. Tyler Williams led the Warriors with 17 points, including two 3-pointers in the first quarter.
“We missed too many free throws (15-for-33) and we didn’t play very good defense,” Cappel said. “They are so young and I wonder if they even get worried about who they are playing.
“I’m impressed with their abilities, the way they handled the ball and their shooting.”