Boys Basketball: Mount Carmel rallies past St. Joseph
By Matt Le Cren For Sun-Times Media February 19, 2014 9:48PM
Montana Byrd pulls a rebound away from Mount Carmel teammate Devante Charles (32) as Nick Rakocevic and Joffrey Brown (21) of St. Joseph move in to defend. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 20, 2014 2:39AM
Mount Carmel has a habit of saving its best for last.
The Caravan did it again Wednesday night, rallying from a 12-point deficit to knock off host St. Joseph 50-48 in a thrilling Catholic League semifinal in Westchester.
Mount Carmel (20-6) will take a 10-game winning streak into Saturday’s 7 p.m. title game against De La Salle (12-10) at Chicago State.
“We haven’t had many fast starts,” Mount Carmel’s David Nichols said. “We started off slow as usual, but then we started picking each other up. We started playing Mount Carmel basketball: passing the ball, hitting open shots.”
St. Joseph (22-6) jumped to a 24-12 lead in the second quarter behind the play of 6-9 center Nick Rakocevic, who made six straight shots.
But Nichols scored on a layup off a nice assist from Christian Searles, the first of four straight shots he would make to pull the Caravan to within 32-28 at halftime.
Searles and Nichols hooked up again when Searles drove the lane and dished to Nichols on the left wing for the three-pointer that put the Caravan ahead 48-45 with 1:10 left in the game.
“It was shocking how open I was,” Nichols said. “That’s what Christian does. He’s our leader. He finds everybody when they’re open and that was just a great pass.
“Devante Charles set a good screen to get me open, Christian drove and made the right pass.”
As big as that play was, it wouldn’t have happened if not for Montana Byrd’s defensive gem on the preceding possession.
Byrd spent most of the game on the bench after picking up three fouls in the first quarter. He was playing with four fouls when, with the game tied, he took a charge from St. Joseph star Glynn Watson to negate a basket.
It was Watson’s fourth foul. Seconds later, Watson fouled out.
“We’ve been preaching to the kids all week: we have to stop dribble penetration, we’ve got to sacrifice our body,” Mount Carmel coach Mike Flaherty said. “I know (Byrd) was disappointed that he didn’t play more, that he got in such early foul trouble, but that was the play of the game.”
Byrd is one of four players averaging in double figures for Mount Carmel. He had just two in this one but drew praise from his teammates.
“That was a headsy play by Montana,” Nichols said. “We try to pick everybody up when somebody’s down and that showed. He wasn’t playing much but he came in and made a difference.”
After Jordan Ash missed a potential game-tying three, Searles took a charge on Rakocevic with 45 seconds left. After a turnover, the Chargers missed another three and Searles made two free throws with 10 ticks left to make it 50-45. Joffery Brown’s three-pointer finished the scoring with three seconds to go.
Rakocevic led St. Joseph with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Watson scored 10 points.
Nichols had 17 points and seven rebounds, Gabe Grant 15 points, seven boards and three steals and Searles 14 points and three assists for Mount Carmel, which lost 60-57 at home Dec. 13 to De La Salle.
“We’re really excited,” Nichols said. “We’ve just got to keep playing team basketball and get the job done. We can’t be satisfied. We’ve just got to be ready to play Saturday night.”