During a distinguished school career, Br. Rice’s senior quarterback Ahmad Henderson added to his resume with numerous late-game heroics.
In his sophomore year, he practiced a three-point shot to beat Fenwick. Last year, as a junior, he stumbled on the winner of the game in the final seconds with a dramatic victory over St. Ignatius. And last month at the State Farm Holiday Classic, he hit a 3-pointer in overtime against Peoria.
However, with the second half of the season yet to come, Henderson is far from complete on his resume.
On January 17, he turned on Br. Rice broke out of the 9-point hole late in the game with 10 straight points, including a game winner with 17 seconds left to lead the Crusaders to a thrilling 49–48 win over host Marist at the annual Battle of Pulaski.
“It’s the knowledge that at important times I have to step forward,” Henderson said. “This is my last time in competitive play. It’s special how we did it, being subdued and united as a team. This is my senior year. It’s huge and looks amazing.”
Henderson finished with 18 points and surpassed 1,000 career points.
It was Br. Rice’s fifth consecutive win in the Neighborhood Rivalry.
Henderson said that, as a freshman on the sophomore team, Br. Rice lost to Marist. But in his senior year against the RedHawks, he took over as the Crusaders trailed 48–39 with 3 minutes left.
Breaking through the defense and getting into the basket, seemingly at will, Henderson scored one sports shot after another. With his team down 48-47 in the final 30 seconds, the Niagara University rookie drove down the lane and gave way to the winner of the game with 17 seconds left.
“I knew we needed it. We all had a hard time throwing the ball,” Henderson said. “I work on this throw every day after practice. I am working on different types of shots and floats. At my height (5’10”) I can’t always get to the ring, so the float is key for me.”
br. Rice’s coach Conte Stamas said he knew Henderson would turn up when the team needed him.
“Ahmad is a phenomenal talent. He likes the important moments,” Stamas said. “We put it on his shoulders. He is an adult and played in attack. As a team, we played defense. We were lucky. Marist does a great job.”
Leading 9 at 48-39 in the fourth round, Marist didn’t score in the final 3 minutes. Looking to kill time at 48-45, the RedHawks were almost a full minute behind the time, but the Crusaders responded with an interception.
Near the middle of the court, senior Nick Niego (St. Cajetan) dived for a loose ball, got possession and called a time-out just before slipping out of bounds.
On a day when his jump shot missed, Niego still found a way to contribute.
“I didn’t shoot very well in this game, but you can always play defensively,” Niego said. “That’s what I did. I saw the lost ball and dived for it. My defense, I play hard all the time.”
As for Henderson’s impressive performance, Niego had no doubts.
“This is Ahmad,” Niego said. “We stop the defense and he puts the ball in the hole. Whenever he shoots, I know I will hit, 100 percent.”
br. The 6-foot-7 Rice Twin Towers, senior Khalil Ross and junior Xavier Fitch, finished with 9 points and 7 rebounds each. Junior Cale Cosme (5 points) and sophomore Marcos Gonzalez (4 points) also added to the effort.
Senior forward Jimmy Navarrete, Loras College rookie, scored a goal early in the fourth goal off Gonzalez’s pass to stop a 7-0 fast run from Marist.
“Marist was a bit ahead of us in rebounding towards the end, but we had to play physically,” Navarrete said. “It’s a physical game in a good rivalry, so we had to rely on a tough, tough basketball game. We have a busy schedule in the high season, so we have to stick together and stick together.”
br. Rice followed up Marist’s win by losing 50-47 to Loyola Academy on January 20 and then defeated the Rolling Meadows 64-59 in the When Sides Collide Shootout at Benet Academy.
The Crusaders posted a 20-3 record in the road game on January 24 after a press conference against St. Lawrence.
Marist was led by sophomore Keshon Vaval (13 points), senior Caden White (10 points), sophomore Marquis Vance (10 points) and senior Mason Ross (8 points).
After a good bucket of Henderson with 17 seconds left, Marist got two good looks, one float from freshman Adoni Vassilakis who just missed and got a high rebound, and another high arch jump over two defenders from senior Justin Lang to the baseline that just rolled off the rim.
“We have to finish the games,” Lang said. “We had 8 points with two minutes left and we threw them away. We’ve been trying to work on that all season. We just need to shut down.”
Marist fell to 17-5 with the loss. The Redhawks entered the season as a stealthy team, flying stealthily, but they continue to accumulate victories thanks to strong performances.
But for Lang and his teammates, there was no moral victory in the hard effort against Br. Rice.
“We always knew we could play anyone,” Lang said. “We knew how well we would fit into the season. We expected to win this game.”
Marist coach Brian Hines said he was impressed with his team’s performance. Although this loss was a bitter pill to swallow, Hines liked the RedHawks’ fighting spirit. Five defeats of the team amounted to a total of 22 points.
“It’s hard. I think we’ve gotten past “Oh, we believe in ourselves!” Hines said. “This group has past moral victories. Over the past couple of weeks, the team has really come together. We just need to learn how to close games.”