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No. 16 Marian hands cold-shooting No. 14 Mercy its first loss, holding off second-half rally to even up CHSL Central race

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, January 28, 2020, 9:27 pm

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — The only way that Farmington Hills Mercy could’ve had a worse first half was if frogs had begun raining down on the court, or somehow a plague of locusts was unleashed in their locker room. 

No. 14-ranked Mercy hit the first shot of Tuesday’s first-place showdown against its rival, No. 16 Birmingham Marian, but went 0-for-26 the rest of the first half, and eventually fell behind by 21 midway through the third.

And yet …

The Marlins, for all their offensive struggles, held Marian without a field goal for the final 11:30 of the game, outscoring the Mustangs 22-6 to end the game, cutting it to a two-possession game before Marian could close it out, winning 36-29. 

“That first half was — like I told the kids afterwards, shooting can sometimes be contagious; contagious in a good way, or contagious in a bad way. It wasn’t just like one person missing (shots), it was everybody, right? We scored the first basket of the game, and then don’t score again in the half — and (were) not even good at the line. Had we been good at the line in that first half … we could’ve been down maybe seven or eight, and considering how badly we played …” Mercy coach Gary Morris said. 

“You figure, with the law of averages, after a while, if you throw enough of them up, more than one’s going to go in. Early on, I thought we forced some, but then I thought we went through a stretch where we were getting pretty good looks, but just could not hit a shot.”

The first loss of the season for Mercy (11-1, 6-1 CHSL Central), it evened up the league race, giving the Mustangs (10-2, 6-1) revenge for the first meeting, when Mercy won 46-34 at home.

“Obviously they’re down. This is a big rivalry, and it’s disappointing to not play better. I think that’s a part of it. You’d like to play better. Kudos to (the Mustangs), but we’re a better team than we showed in that first half, so I think that’s disappointing,” Morris said. “We get right back at it (Wednesday), because we’ve gotta go to Divine Child on Friday. We knew this would be a tough week, because two teams we beat the first time around, we’d have to go to their place, and they’d be seeking revenge.”

Playing without sniper Shannon Kennedy, the Mustangs relied on their bigs inside, and they responded: Sarah Sylvester led all scorers with 16 points, adding 12 rebounds, while Lauren Licari had nine points and 15 boards.

Kennedy hurt her ankle in last Friday’s loss to Detroit Edison, and is expected to miss several weeks. She was on crutches and in a boot on the bench for Tuesday’s contest. 

“She says two to four weeks, but I think it’ll be a little longer than that. It’s a pretty good sprain,” Marian coach Mary Cicerone said. “They (the bigs) did a good job, but we still gave up some offensive boards, missed some pretty easy putbacks. There’s room for improvement — that’s the good point — we can still get better. 

“I thought the other kids stepped up — all five of them.”

The Mustangs led 10-2 after a quarter, and 19-5 at the half. That lead grew to 21 points at 30-9 when Sylvester hit a layup with 3:30 left in the third, and the rout appeared to be on. But Sylvester would pick up her third foul 90 seconds later, then come back int the final minute of the third, only to pick up her fourth. 

Alexis Butler hit a 3-pointer to start a run of three straight triples for the Marlins — Julia Bishop hit another, then Alexis Roberts beat the buzzer with the third — to end the third quarter on a 10-0 run, cutting the deficit to 30-19.

“I was mad at them, because we do this. We’re up by 20 against Divine Child, we fall apart in the fourth quarter. It’s like we stop playing. We’re over at Gabriel Richard, and we’re up by 19, and we fall apart in the fourth quarter. We’re up by 20 (tonight) and we fall apart in the fourth quarter. Now, they hit some big shots, but we didn’t close out. Game over? No, game’s not over. Mercy’s not going to give up,” Cicerone said. “That’s why I was disappointed for them. We played a great game, and then it looked yucky at the end. And I don’t like that. I wanted for them to finish out a good game against a good team, and we didn’t. … I’m just disappointed that we didn’t finish the game out. We could’ve taken over the division — all we had to do was beat them by 13, and we were up by 20.”

Ellie Tisko’s layup with 2:31 left in the fourth brought the deficit under 10, at 33-24, then got it down to eight, 35-27, on two Bishop free throws with 46.6 left. Bishop got a layup off a steal with 26.4 left to make it 35-29, but Mercy wouldn’t score again, as Marian got one of two free throws from Grace Rotter with 10.4 seconds left, and ran the remaining time off the clock. 

“We just said (at the half), ‘Guys, we cannot shoot like we just shot. We’re going to shoot better. Keep defending, and we’ll just try to chop away at their lead. We really didn’t chop away at the lead for most of the third, until late,” Morris said. “We got down by 20 and I thought our kids competed hard. That’s a big hill to climb against a quality team. … But then we had that stretch in the fourth, when we were in striking distance, and we missed three straight one-and-ones. You make even three of those, that helps a little bit.”

The Marlins were 10 for 23 from the free-throw line in the game. 

Bishop led Mercy with 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Roberts had eight points. 

Despite all the fouls Marian racked up in the second half, the free-throw disparity wasn’t as keen as it was in the first meeting, one of the major differences that changed the outcome. 

The Mustangs were 10 for 17 from the line. 

“We just played poorly over there. Mercy played very well. They got after it, they got rebounds, they got to the basket. We did a better job of keeping them out of the paint — we didn’t do that very well the first game — and we didn’t shoot the ball very well the first game,” Cicerone said. “We gave up 35 free throws last time, something like that, and it was mainly because we didn’t keep them off the boards, and we fouled.”

Marian resumes Central Division play Friday, hosting Macomb Lutheran North.