Updated: April 6, 2014 6:18AM
St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare didn’t have anything out of the ordinary to say to his players during halftime Tuesday night.
Far from it. He just wanted the Mustangs to play some defense against Kenwood.
“I keep telling the guys, ‘Wanna keep playing? Keep playing defense,’ ” DeCesare said. “We had to guard. That changes the complexion of the game.”
Led by Charles Matthews and Victor Law, the Mustangs took the message to heart.
Holding Kenwood to just seven points on 3-of-12 shooting in the third quarter, the Mustangs pulled away for good on the way to a 73-58 win in a Class 4A Oak Lawn Regional semifinal.
St. Rita (19-7) will either Mount Carmel or St. Ignatius winner at 7 p.m. Friday for regional the title.
Matthews (28 points) and Law (15 points, 10 rebounds) paced the Mustangs, with Myles Carter (12 points, 7 rebounds) and Treston Forbes (10 points) also contributing.
“The first half, Kenwood got to the basket way too easy,” Law said. “We got a lot of run-outs in the second half off turnovers and converted off those turnovers.”
Holding a 37-31 halftime advantage, a different Mustangs team took the court in the third. Even when Kenwood’s Jelani Sankey hit an early three-pointer, cutting the lead to 39-34, St. Rita calmly answered in force.
Law hit two free throws, then added a step-back jumper from just inside the three-point arc. After Matthews scored on a layup, Law capped the 10-2 spurt with a vicious two-handed dunk on a fast break started by a pass from Matthews.
St. Rita led 49-38 through three quarters, going up by as many as 20 points in the fourth.
“Especially heading into the playoffs, these games come down to defense and rebounding,” Matthews said. “We tried to tighten up on defense and crash the boards. We got the jitters out. We’re trying to win the whole thing.”
Nick Robinson (21 points) and Sankey (11) led Kenwood (15-13).