The St. Ignatius boys’ basketball team’s heart-stopping 42-40 win over rival Sacred Heart Cathedral gives the Wildcats ownership of the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy for the second consecutive year, but the game may be remembered more for the points left on the floor.
The Fightin’ Irish shot 3-of-11 from the free-throw line, including five key misses in the fourth quarter, in the loss on Tuesday at USF’s War Memorial Gymnasium.
“You get in this atmosphere, in a close game, and you hope your guys can get the crowd out of their head and knock them down,” Sacred Heart head coach Darrell Barbour said. “In the end, that’s what got us.”
The free throws may have been the difference, but it was a 3-point attempt from the corner by Martin Folan that touched every part of the rim, swirling in and out with 35 seconds left, that was the dagger.
“That was absolutely crazy. I’ve never seen a ball go that far down and out,” Folan said. “I thought it was in.”
Folan had another opportunity to put the Irish on top with six seconds left, but the shot fell short, and after a E.J. Silvia free throw with 0.7 seconds remaining, the Irish could not get a shot off to beat the buzzer.
The Irish did everything they could to get back in the game after trailing 26-15 at the half, but whenever they came close or took the lead, St. Ignatius senior guard Johnny Mrlik had an answer.
Mrlik had a game-high 16 points, but eight came in the fourth quarter, including a cold-blooded 3-pointer after Sacred Heart tied the game up at 33-33 early in the quarter and a three-point play on a driving layup after the Irish took a 39-38 lead with just over two minutes remaining.
“Last year, I was more of a spot-up shooter, but this year I’m taking the ball up more and trying to distribute,” Mrlik said. “Our team set me up great, driving and then kicking out to me. I just had some open shots and got lucky today.”
While the dramatic ending may cause some to forget, it was the early St. Ignatius defensive effort that held the Irish to 15 first-half points and a season-low 40 total.
“In the third quarter the guys got a little tired and we gave up a couple of dunks, but overall it was just great defense,” St. Ignatius head coach John DeBenedetti said.
The win secures the coveted Bruce-Mahoney trophy for the Wildcats, after the football team’s win in the fall, rendering the baseball game inconsequential, at least as far as the series is concerned.
“I’m sure the baseball coach will want to take me out for a drink and a steak right now,” DeBenedetti said. “We pick each other up. Last year we dropped this game and they bailed us out on their end. We picked them up this time. That’s what we do as a coaching staff and as a school.”
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