Even in defeat, Malden Catholic delivered a message Friday night at Catholic Memorial.
The young Lancers — the only Division 2 program in the five-team powerhouse Catholic Conference — are not going to be an easy out this season, as they gave 10th-ranked CM everything it could handle before the Knights pulled out a narrow 78-75 victory.
“We’re not going to be the team that everyone steps on in the Catholic Conference anymore,” said interim head coach Ryan Taylor, who took the helm four games ago when Jim McCune stepped down for personal reasons.
“There are no moral victories. But we played hard, the guys are starting to believe, and this is something we can build on.”
Catholic Memorial (6-1, 2-0 Catholic Conference) received 20 first-half points from Kurtis Henderson to take a narrow 41-40 lead into the break. Henderson garnered extra defensive attention and was held without a field goal in the second half, but fellow Brockton resident Ta’Quan Williams had his back.
The sophomore guard poured in a career-best 24 points, with five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, including a huge triple to make it 76-72 with just over a minute to play.
“[The Lancers] were leaving me open,” said Williams. “I had to show them I can knock those shots down. I have the mental toughness to do that. I felt as if I had the hot hand, and I’m very confident in my shot.”
Henderson (25 points, five assists) added a pair of clutch free throws to put the Knights up 3 in the waning seconds, and the Lancers’ last-second heave went awry.
But Malden Catholic (5-2, 2-1) never folded under the sweltering heat at Ronald Perry Gymanisum, forcing 15 lead changes and five ties in a back-and-forth affair.
Sophomore point guard Tony Felder Jr. (21 points, three assists, three steals) battled Henderson all night, spearheading a 12-2 run to put MC up, 56-54, after three quarters.
Junior Cristian Rios (20 points, 11 rebounds) and 6-foot-6 freshman Jahmari Hamilton-Brown (9 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks, four assists) created transition opportunities with strong defense, allowing Felder Jr. to can a triple and make it 68-61 Lancers with just under 5 minutes to play.
Yet as they so often do, the Knights found a way to make plays down the stretch and claw out another home win.
“It was a typical Catholic Conference battle to the end,” said CM coach Denis Tobin. “Both teams played extremely hard and in spurts, extremely well, and Ta’Quan really stepped up for us in the fourth.
“That’s going to be the key to the season because everyone’s going to focus on Kurtis. We need other guys to step up and make shots and [Williams] did a great job of that tonight.”
Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.