The early-round, not-so-familiar opponents have been sent home. Now it’s time to play the guys who are only five miles away.
“It’ll be fun,” said Thurgood Marshall boys basketball coach Shawn McCullough. “It’ll be a nice crowd, the atmosphere will be rockin’.”
Marshall’s next tournament opponent is Chaminade Julienne in a Division II sectional final at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Springfield High School. CJ, the No. 8 seed, opened the night with a 56-36 victory over No. 5 Oakwood. Marshall, the No. 3 seed, finished the night with a 76-48 second-half pounding of No. 13 Valley View.
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CJ (12-12) and Marshall (17-7) play every season, the players know each other and the last meeting carries weight into Saturday night. On Dec. 3, CJ went to Marshall, got down by 18 and came back to win 86-83 in overtime.
“That was a tense environment, it was an unfriendly environment and we went in there and we fought and found a way,” CJ coach Charlie Szabo said.
The loss stuck with Marshall.
“Revenge,” said Marshall junior Anthony McComb. “It’s going to be a dogfight.”
CJ senior forward Larry Turner expects the same.
“If you lose to a team and see them again, you’re going to want to come back and beat them,” he said. “So I expect them to come out firing, and we’ve got to be ready for that just like last time.”
Both teams have quickness, but CJ has a size advantage. Daniel Nauseef, a 6-foot-6 junior who averages 8.6 points, made 11 of 13 shots and scored 27 points in the first meeting.
“With them being as big as they are, we’re going to have to defend better,” McCullough said. “They used their length and size to kind of expose us a little bit. We’ll be ready.”
Wednesday’s win was especially sweet for CJ. Last year as the top seed, the Eagles were blown out by rival Alter in the sectional semifinal at Trent Arena.
“It was just focusing on this and not looking ahead, because I feel like that was our issue last year, looking too far ahead,” Turner said.
CJ’s size made a difference against Oakwood (15-8). The Lumberjacks shoot 21 3-pointers a game and make an average of eight of them. Senior Darren Rubin averages 20.8 points and shoots 45.4% from three-point range. Szabo knows Rubin’s game well from his elementary days when he attended CJ basketball camps.
“He’s an unbelievable basketball kid, really good player, gym rat,” Szabo said. “We knew he’d be ready to play us, so we prepared a lot.”
Oakwood faced long possessions and worked hard for every shot. Rubin scored 14 points and his team was held to six 3-pointers.
“We have length and athleticism that they haven’t seen much this year,” Szabo said. “They’re used to those looks being a second longer.”
Turner led the Eagles with 14 points, Brandon Gibson had 12 and Nauseef had 10.
Marshall had a sluggish start and trailed until tying Valley View (10-14) at 16-16. The Cougars’ full-court pressure and speed then took over and the halftime score was 34-20. Prophet Johnson scored 15 points and Chanze Amerson 14. McComb, who averages 19, scored 12 and Mekhi Elmore, who averages 20, scored nine.
“We came out a little selfish shooting threes, but once we talked to each other we started playing together, moving the ball, going to the hole,” McComb said.
Who’s the underdog Saturday? Hard to say. CJ is the lower seed and just reached the .500 mark Wednesday. But the Eagles won the first meeting and have played difficult nonconference and league schedules that suggest their record is deceiving. The losses, as Szabo sees it, have made his team better.
“What the first two [tournament] games has proven to our kids is it’s validated the schedule we play, validated the league we play in,” Szabo said. “This is what we prepare for.”
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