Marian turns up the defensive pressure in the second half and defeats Arbor Prep, 56-26
Birmingham – Senior night had more than its usual sendoffs and congratulatory gestures at Birmingham Marian on Thursday.
Colleen Conway, a 1994 Marian graduate who played on the ’92 Class A championship team, died of cancer on Feb. 1.
Longtime Marian coach Mary Cicerone was brought to tears as she crossed he gym floor to give Conway’s parents a bouquet of flowers.
Following tradition, all five seniors on Marian’s team started against Ypsilanti Arbor Prep and whether it was the different lineup, the emotions that hung over the Marian bench or just the fact that the Mustangs were playing a good team, they didn’t play like the best team in the state.
Marian committed eight turnovers, two more than the Gators, and its best player, sophomore Samantha Thomas, was on the bench for the last 3:54 after picking up her second foul.
Though Marian led 26-16 the game was still in the balance.
That changed quickly.
Marian (15-1) scored the first 15 points of the second half to take a 41-16 lead and the Mustangs were dominant once again defeating the state’s No. 1-ranked Class C team, 56-26.
The fewest points Arbor Prep (12-3) had scored this season before Thursday was in a 53-42 loss to Ann Arbor Huron on Jan. 17.
This Marian team is special. Last season Marian surprised most as it won the Class A title. This season it will be an even bigger surprise if it doesn’t the title.
Offensively, Marian isn’t overwhelming though the Mustangs are efficient. Marian shot 53.6 percent (21-39) from the field and missed just one of eight free throw tries. The Mustangs rarely take an ill-advised shot and many of their baskets come on layups, even in the half court.
Eight players scored led by senior Kara Holinski with 14 points. Thomas added 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Brittany Gray, another senior, and Elizabeth Groebbel each scored eight.
No, what makes this team so good is their defense. Cicerone didn’t display all of her team’s abilities on the defensive end on this night. It wasn’t needed. But Marian can pressure full court if the situation calls for it. On this night its half-court defense was more than enough. Cicerone directed her players to clog the middle and force perimeter shots.
“We wanted to stay in front of them,” Cicerone said. “Other teams have great shooters and we would have to play differently.
“(Assistant coach) Derrick (Thomas) works with the defense. He’s the one who comes with the scouting report. He’s a basketball junkie. He goes to all kinds of games to scout. He loves it.”
Don’t be fooled. Cicerone keeps her hands on the defensive strategy. It’s just now, and last season, she’s had the assistance of an experienced coach, one who coached at the collegiate level.
Arbor Prep was 7-for-22 from the field in the field half then made just three baskets in the second half in 24 attempts (12.5 percent).
“We just didn’t come with energy in the second half,” Arbor Prep coach Rod Wells said. “They shut us down on defense. They don’t let you get into the paint. And we had to make shots and we didn’t.”