In 20 years as head coach of Catholic Memorial, Denis Tobin has never lost a senior night game.
And behind a gritty team effort that picked up the slack until star senior Kurtis Henderson finally caught fire in the fourth quarter, that tradition continued Thursday against fellow Catholic Conference powerhouse Malden Catholic.
Henderson had 17 of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Knights (6-2) avenge last week’s loss to the Lancers by putting the game away for an 87-65 win. Henderson opened the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run off his own scoring to lead a 33-20 final frame, punctuating a lead his teammates helped build while he struggled in the first half.
Back-and-forth the game teetered in that time, but the 12-man rotation did more than enough to bully the inside for points when shooting got tough and it feasted off a rare poor 3-point display from Malden Catholic (10-of-39) to pull away in the second half. The Lancers are difficult to overpower on the inside, but they found a way behind Jack Wirtanen’s double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) and solid play from Chris Pierre.
“This win feels very good,” Tobin said, as CM snapped a two-game skid heading into the Catholic Conference tournament next week. “This one I looked at as a gut check. We could’ve continued our slide, but these kids really responded well.”
As Henderson failed to score for nearly the first 13 minutes, several Knights stepped up to open with a 19-12 first quarter. Pounding the inside and forcing missed 3-pointers played a big part, as Wirtanen, Malachi Bryant, Kyle Phillips, Brandon Bennett and Eoin Morrissey all executed inside the arc.
The lead didn’t stand too long, as Malden Catholic followed its normal recipe of hot stretches with 3-pointers from Christian Rios (nine points) and Kingsley Breen (12 points) to ignite a 12-3 run for a 24-all tie midway through the second quarter. That’s when Henderson finally made his first shot, though, scoring nine of the team’s next 12 points en route to a 36-30 halftime CM wouldn’t surrender.
Malden Catholic struggled to rebound and shoot well consistently, helping the Knights slowly put the game away until a heavy-hitting fourth quarter.
“What our coach teaches us — toughness. Play tough and with grit,” Henderson said. “We just live by that throughout the whole year. We took a couple losses, this was a great way to bounce back. … I didn’t want to be the first one to lose a senior night (for Tobin).”
Henderson and Wirtanen were the only CM players to reach double-digits, but 11 different players scored in a well-balanced effort. Defense played well, holding Tony Felder — whose 21 points carried Malden Catholic in the first matchup — to just 12 points. Jeff Hill led the Lancers with 20 points, but his efforts weren’t enough to overcome the missed shots they had on open looks throughout on drive-and-kick attempts. Many different runs kept it competitive, just not enough to steal CM’s senior night.