Fenwick senior Mike Ballard took the pass from senior Mike Smith and sank a three-pointer to tie Saturday’s basketball showdown against Riverside-Brookfield with 5:37 left. Clltch.
Ballard credited Smith, who was about to climax his phenomenal week of excelling come crunch time.
“Really just a great player to have,” Ballard said. “(Smith) helps a lot. It takes a lot of pressure off of me and our other players. He’ll draw a lot of attention from the defense, leaving us open and driving lanes open.”
In the final three minutes, Smith scored 12 consecutive points for the Friars to finish with 34 and carried them to a 67-64 victory at the When Sides Collide Shootout at Glenbard East.
Smith had 4 of 7 threes by Fenwick (17-2) – all in the second half – followed by Ballard (15 points with 3 threes) and Jacob Keller (13).
The Bulldogs (14-3) had 10 threes and double figures from Daniko Jackson (17 points with 3 threes), Skyler Nash (16 with 5 threes) and Mark Smith and Jalen Clanton (12 each).
“I just got in the zone. I could see that my team needed me,” Mike Smith said. “Shots weren’t falling for everybody else so I felt that I just had to take over. And (Fenwick coach Rick Malnati) let me do that so I’m happy that I did.”
“Ride the horse that’s hot,” Malnati explained. “Mike was really hot. We got him the ball and he made some good plays. And they missed some free throws. I’m sure we did too in the first half.”
The Bulldogs led 32-24 at halftime. RBHS remained ahead 50-46 entering the fourth quarter but scored just three points over its first 11 possessions of the period.
“We came together and really battled back,” Ballard said. “Everyone was making shots and we were playing defense and getting stops.”
Another factor was RBHS making just 2 of 11 free throws in the fourth quarter to finish 6 for 17. Fenwick with 16 for 26.
“We struggled a little bit at the free throw line and came up a little bit short. But all in all it was a great high school basketball game. It will only help us for the state tournament,” RBHS coach Tom McCloskey said.
“I thought we rebounded really well. I thought our defense was overall pretty good. I thought we played as a team and made Smith earn a lot of those shots. He was hitting some tough shots.”
Smith had a career-high 38 points in Monday’s thrilling 71-68 victory over higher-ranked Simeon. The Friars posted a season-high point total Friday in beating Marmion 90-52.
Saturday’s heroics came despite Smith playing with four fouls since the first call of the fourth quarter. He also missed his first three shots of the period and two of his first three free throws.
Smith concluded by making a conventional three-point play, a three and 7 of 7 free throws.
“I’m always worried, but I play him with four (fouls). If we’re going to lose, he’s going to play,” Malnati said. “He’s a strong kid. You can’t stay in front of him. When you’ve got guys on the perimeter you have to guard, it’s pretty tough to leave Ballard or Quinn (Fisher) because they’ll knock down shots.”
After Ballard’s three for a 51-51 tie, the Friars never trailed. Keller’s driving basket put Fenwick ahead 53-51 followed by Smith’s scoring streak. Fisher added two late free throws before Clanton’s three at the buzzer.
“(Ballard is) a second semester shooter,” Malnati said. “In the second semester, we anticipate he’s going to get hot.”
The Friars continue their gauntlet of games with another showdown against St. Joseph on Thursday, Jan. 28 in Oak Park. Tip off is 7 p.m.