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Marist’s tough defense holds off Bishop McNamara

Marist’s strategy against Bishop McNamara was simple: double-team Khadaizha Sanders with waves of fresh bodies and dare someone else to beat them.

No one else did.

Marist held Sanders to 19 points on 4 of 13 shooting from the field, including 0 of 6 in the second half, and put four players in double figures to knock off the Fightin’ Irish 70-55 Thursday in Chicago.

The loss left No. 12 McNamara (18-4, 5-2) two games in back of Marian Catholic in the loss column in the rugged East Suburban Catholic Conference. Marist (18-4, 5-1), meanwhile, remained one game back in the loss column.

Depth and defense was the difference Thursday.

“We go one through 15,” Marist coach Mary Pat Connolly said. “Our depth is important, especially when the game is being called that tight. We thought if we could wear this team down, they only substitute seven and we can substitute 15, hopefully we wear them down.

“The girls did a great job on Sanders. The game plan was to back screen her, back screen her, make her hit back screens, never leave her alone on the floor. We thought if we stopped her from scoring half the points she usually scores, but everybody else had to play team defense too.”

One of the RedHawks who was attached to Sanders’s hip was sophomore guard Julia Ruzevich.

“The coaches wanted us to get in her head,” Ruzevich said. “I was assigned to double team her. When she was standing off to the side during free throws, me and Dajae Black were talking, saying we had a great game, we’re playing great, but it’s not over yet. We still have to play, and it just felt great.”

Marist dominated the boards and employed its five-man platoon system to take an early 17-13 lead. But McNamara used a 9-2 run to take its first lead since 7-6 aided by a 3-pointer from the right corner by Jaida Carson. A coast-to-coast basket by Sanders extended the led to 26-21.

But the RedHawks ran five fresh bodies onto the floor and closed the first half on a 15-5 run. Consecutive steals by Black gave Marist a 27-26 lead, and a 3-pointer by Katie Houbolt pushed the RedHawks’ advantage to 32-28.

McNamara was still within seven points at 55-48 with 5:19 remaining in the fourth quarter, but could get no closer as Marist converted 9 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter.

“It was one of those nights,” McNamara coach John Rutter said. “They came to play and took it to us. We didn’t have an answer. They doubled Khadaizha, we’ve seen that a whole bunch of times, and it obviously had an effect. We didn’t make shots.”

Ruzevich led Marist with 12 points, Tehya Fortune added 11 and Kaitlin Rosner (12 rebounds) and Claire Austin both had 10. Corinne O’Connor added 14 points for McNamara and Kelly Rudin had 12.

“Give them credit,” Rutter said. “They earned the whole thing. They wore her down. That was the game plan. It worked. They put two girls on her and made it difficult. It is what it is. We move on.”