Montini coach Brian Opoka knew his Broncos could feel like Daniel in the lions' den playing a senior-laden Marmion squad on the Cadets' Senior Night Tuesday in Aurora.
Opoka's worst fears were realized right after the opening tip. After honoring their seven seniors before the game, the fired-up Cadets roared ahead 17-3 thanks to 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.
The Broncos fought back to within 32-27 midway through the second quarter, but Marmion promptly devoured Montini's defense again behind a 16-2 run en route to an 80-56 Suburban Christian Conference crossover victory at Alumni Hall.
Marmion (11-11 overall, 3-2 Suburban Christian Blue Division) delivered one of its crispest offensive performances of the season against Montini (7-11, 3-4 SCC Gold). The Cadets rang up back-to-back 3-pointers from senior point guard Michael Sheehan and two more treys from Jordan Glasgow and Jake Esp to quickly jump in front 12-1. Esp closed out Marmion's torrid first quarter with a 3-point play and a 22-9 edge.
"It was their Senior Night, and they came out on fire," Opoka said. "They were tough to contain."
Montini regrouped in the second quarter. The Broncos began attacking the lane on offense, finding cutters and driving to the basket for shots around the rim. Senior guard Tom McGillicuddy was particularly effective, scoring 10 points in the quarter, and his back-door cut and layup trimmed Montini's deficit to 32-27 with 3:20 left in the first half.
But Marmion's offense proceeded to overwhelm the Broncos again. With Montini paying closer defensive attention to the 3-point arc, the Cadets responded by working the ball inside. The hosts outscored the Broncos 32-12 over the next quarter and a half, pouring in points through a variety of methods, highlighted by a baseline drive and two-handed dunk by Tyler Maryanski, his 13th slam of the season, and an open-court steal and layup by Glasgow that pushed Marmion ahead 56-37 with 2:00 to go in the third quarter.
The Cadets capped their offensive flurry with a rebound basket by senior forward Danny Bicknell with :10 remaining followed by a length-of-the-court drive and pull-up jumper by Sheehan at the third-quarter buzzer that made it 60-39. Marmion's lead grew to as large as 78-52 in the fourth quarter on a pair of free throws by senior forward Jim Betzelos.
"We executed very well on offense," Marmion coach Ryan Paradise said. "We made the extra pass for open shots, too. It's one of the things I love about our team right now. We have five or six guys who have stepped up and led us offensively the last few weeks. It doesn't matter who gets the shot. The guys are about getting the best shot for the team. No one dominates the ball. We like to say we play with a light basketball. We keep the ball moving."
Sheehan paced the Cadets with 20 points, his fourth consecutive 20-point performance. Sheehan has tallied 93 points and buried 20 three-pointers in that stretch, including 5 for 11 on Tuesday. Esp added 19, Glasgow 13 and Bicknell 9 with a game-high 13 rebounds. Marmion shot 29 for 52 (55.8 percent) from the field and 9 for 17 (52.9 percent) on 3s.
The victory brought Marmion's record to .500 after having lost the first seven games of the season. Maryanski credits the Cadets' 11 wins in 15 games since that 0-7 start to adjusting their style of play to fit their quick, athletic roster and improving the team's overall toughness.
"We started out the season trying to be more of a patient halfcourt type of team," Maryanski said. "Now we're using our athleticism and speed more to our advantage by getting easy fast-break points and being more aggressive on defense. We also needed to focus on toughness more. Coach gave each of us a long article by Jay Bilas (ESPN college basketball analyst) on toughness. It was about not just physical toughness but mental toughness, playing tough defense as a team, boxing out for rebounds, fighting for loose balls, doing the little things right, too, that you need to do to be successful. It changed the whole complexion of the team."
After its loss, Montini's schedule doesn't get any easier. The Broncos host IC Catholic Prep on Friday in Lombard, hoping to hand the undefeated SCC Gold Division leader its first conference loss. Opoka is confident that his team will play a much better game on its home floor. Montini battled IC Catholic to the final seconds before losing 49-45 Dec. 20 in Elmhurst.
Marmion hopes to continue its winning ways but will have to do so primarily away from home. Five of the Cadets' last six regular-season games are on the road starting Friday at Glenbard South.