Br. Rice junior guard Ahmad Henderson and his teammates saw their Chicago Catholic League (CCL) crossover game against the St. Ignatius Wolfpack slipping away.
The hot-shooting Crusaders suddenly went cold, and late in the game on Jan. 7, the Wolfpack charged back from a 13-point deficit to take a 36-35 lead.
Henderson and company needed an answer.
No stranger to late-game heroics, Henderson responded.
Rolling off a screen on the wing, Henderson took a hand-off pass from Khalil Ross and elevated smoothly to swish a 3-pointer that lifted host Br. Rice to a 38-36 victory.
“I know when it gets down to it, I’ve got to be there to knock down a big shot,” Henderson said. “I’m ready to step up. It’s almost a relief [hitting that shot], like a pressure jumps off you.”
The game-winner added to Henderson’s already impressive resume that includes nailing a walk-off 3-pointer against Fenwick last year as a sophomore. He said he’s also hit a game-winner for his AAU team, Young & Reckless.
Henderson finished with 15 points for Br. Rice (13-2, 4-0).
Br. Rice Coach Bobby Frasor said he is supremely confident in his star athlete.
“Ahmad rises to the occasion,” Frasor said. “Even in practice when we’re doing a set that comes down to one possession, he’s always the one who wants to and will take the shot. You see that competitiveness in practice and then in big-time games and moments. He wants the ball.”
Br. Rice led by as much as 14 points, 31-17 with 2:37 remaining in the third, but a scoreless stretch of 8:04 over the third and fourth quarters allowed a hot-shooting St. Ignatius squad to race back into the game.
The Wolfpack went up 34-32 on a Kolby Gilles drive and extended the lead on an A.J. Redd basket off a baseline drive.
Henderson snapped the scoreless streak with another wing 3-pointer with 1:35 left and then swished his game-winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds left on the clock.
“We almost gave that one away. St. Ignatius is a good team,” Henderson said. “When they went on their run, I’m thinking, ‘OK, we can’t give this one away.’ We couldn’t hit shots, but I’m happy that those last couple fell and we were able to get the win.”
Also delivering key performances for the Crusaders were juniors Nick Niego (8 points), Ryan Kenney (5 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks), Jayden Watson (4 points, 3 blocks) and Peter McShane (4 points, 12 rebounds).
Kenney, a 6’6” forward, came off the bench to make some crucial plays in the post.
“It’s a big win. It’s good that we could go through that adversity as a team and fight through it and come out on top,” Kenney said. “We know teams are picking up on Ahmad, so other players need to get involved and get some buckets. It’s good that other people stepped up.”
Kenney (St. Cajetan) is in his first varsity season. He also played defensive end for the football team.
“It was hard to adjust from football to basketball, but it’s all about the mentality,” Kenney said. “The varsity mentality is different. Everyone talks about it, getting up to the varsity. It’s the big show, the real deal, so it’s cool to be a part of that.”
St. Ignatius was led by junior Richard Barron’s 10 points and 5 rebounds. The 6’5” forward jump-started the fourth-quarter rally with 2 3-pointers and a basket inside off an offensive rebound.
“Once I see one go in, I know what I have to do to get that second one,” Barron said. “My dad [Richard] always tells me to stay ready. I’ve been in my head the last couple of games, but my teammates tell me to keep shooting. They believe in me. That’s a big thing.”
St. Ignatius manufactured its 17-0 run to go up 36-32, but then Henderson turned the tide with his final 2 buckets from three.
In the closing seconds, Gilles saw his layup roll off the rim as the buzzer sounded. Gilles (Air Force) finished with 4 points and 7 rebounds.
St. Ignatius struggled from the field through three quarters, but, Barron said, the team remained confident.
“We always think that we have a chance to win, no matter how much we’re down,” Barron said. “With the team we have, we have shooters, facilitators and people who can make big plays. One through five on the court, we can all make a play.”
Playing at the DePaul Shootout on Jan. 8, St. Ignatius pulled off a big bounce-back win, defeating Bolingbrook by a 56-46 final score.
Despite the Wolfpack’s tough losses during a stacked schedule, St. Ignatius Coach Matt Monroe has liked what he’s seen from his players.
“Certainly we want more wins, but I’m never concerned because I believe in our guys,” Monroe said. “Watching today’s game, coaching them in practice, seeing the improvements, I’m actually not concerned; I’m very encouraged. We’re seeing some good things.”