St. Francis sees how low it can go

By Bill Stone
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 2/28/2018 10:43 PM

With all five starters returning St. Francis remembered well the 23-point loss to Glenbard South in the 2017 boys basketball regional semifinals.

During Wednesday's rematch in the Class 3A St. Francis regional semifinals, the Spartans became further motivated by another statistic from many, many years ago.

"(Coach Erin Dwyer) was telling us earlier in the season that his low record for points (allowed) was 27," senior Matt Cooney said. "We were trying all season to beat it. And finally in a playoff game we got it."

The Spartans' defensive lockdown in their 38-21 victory in Wheaton added to the celebration.

St. Francis (14-15), a No. 3 subsectional seed in the Woodstock North sectional, goes after its first regional since 2013 at 7 p.m. Friday against No. 2 Wheaton Academy (20-6).

"In the back of my mind, I wasn't really thinking about (27), just trying to win the game, but you look up at the scoreboard at the end of the game, it's kind of nice to see," said St. Francis senior Alex Rueth.

"Especially in such a close game, it's kind of tough defensively. You know you've got to keep going all of the time."

Cooney finished with 14 points, 12 in the second half, while senior Andrew Harvey had 8 points and Rueth 6 points with 9 rebounds.

Senior Brandon Whiteside had 8 points for No. 5 Glenbard South (11-16), which sought a third consecutive regional title.

The Spartans only led 19-16 entering the fourth quarter but came out with a three-point play by John Detloff and fastbreak basket from Cooney. They built a 29-19 lead with 4:29 remaining and pulled away by hitting 9 of 10 free throws to finish 20 of 25.

The 27-point defensive game came when Dwyer was an assistant coach at Glenbard North -- in the 1990s.

"I told them about it a long time ago and they just reminded me," Dwyer said.

"The whole idea is to keep it simple. We try to hold them to one shot and to a contested shot and I thought we did a great job. The tempo wasn't up and down so that helped a lot, too, but that was as good a team defense as we've played. And they're a good team."

The Raiders were 7 of 33 shooting with one 3-pointer and endured an 8:29 scoreless stretch during the first half. St. Francis was 8 for 23 with two 3s, but Cooney also outscored the Raiders in the second half.

"Normally you hold a team to 38 points, it's going to mean good things for you, but, unfortunately, we struggled on the offensive end," Glenbard South coach Wade Hardtke said.

"I couldn't be prouder of the defensive effort. We were still hanging in there. Unfortunately, we just never could get anything going offensively."

An unsung defensive hero was Rueth, who primarily guarded Whiteside man-to-man. Dwyer also praised sophomore reserve Danny Blank.

"We have one of the hardest workers on the team (Rueth), in all of the state, I think," Cooney said. "He knows his role on defense and really helps us out when we need it."

Rueth only took one shot on a putback. He scored 5 fourth-quarter points on free throws.

"My role is sort of rebound, play defense, sort of jack of all trades. I'm not really worried about my own shot, just helping out any way I can," Rueth said.

The Raiders graduate just three players: Whiteside, Tristan Blake and Matt LaMontagna.

Junior Kevin Enright played for the first time since breaking his left wrist against Marmion Jan. 20, contributing off the bench 3 rebounds, 2 steals and defense on Harvey, who had 7 first-half points.

"That's a gutsy effort on his part," Hardtke said of Enright. "Brandon's been our scorer and leader in that sense, but Kevin's been kind of our leader in heart and soul. That's why those two have been our captains. It was great to see him back out there and at least get out there one more time."

The Spartans, who have nine seniors, beat Wheaton Academy in last year's regional quarterfinals and at home 58-43 back on Dec. 16.

"Playing at home for regionals is awesome. It's something special," Cooney said. "We have to go against one of our rivals, which is fun, so hopefully we can pull out the win."

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