By SCOTT M. BURNSTEIN
BIRMINGHAM – Orchard Lake St. Mary’s played like a team starving for a win Friday night on the road in hostile territory against Catholic League rival Birmingham Brother Rice.
That hunger was rewarded with a 56-53 St. Mary’s victory in a game that looked like it was going to be a rout and ended up a dog fight.
Coming into the high-intensity affair, St. Mary’s had lost two straight and three of four to open play in the CHSL Central Division.
Those in attendance Friday would have been hard-pressed to tell, as the Eaglets were smoking out of the gate.
St. Mary’s (7-4, 2-3) was in front 28-18 at halftime and after a 3 off the bench from Luke Bauss midway through the third quarter, the visitors went ahead 42-23.
Brother Rice proceeded to go on a 3-point bombing spree and shoot its way back into contention. Following five consecutive triples by the Warriors’ snipers, the first and last one splashed home by reserve sophomore guard Davis Feldman, it was a nail-biter at 44-43, with a little more than five minutes to go.
A free throw by Brother Rice’s junior point guard Nick Bielki tied the game 46-46 with just over four minutes to play.
But St. Mary’s star junior swingman Teddy McCree wouldn’t let his squad fall. McCree’s pair from the charity stripe gave the Eaglets back an advantage on the scoreboard it wouldn’t relinquish again and his two drives baseline for hoops in the closing two and a half minutes kept Brother Rice at bay.
“We weren’t playing well, didn’t have our heads on straight before this game tonight and I wanted to do something about it,” said McCree of another clutch performance of his. “Getting this win means a lot for us.”
It wasn’t easy.
Clinging to a 55-53 lead, junior guard Lamon Mathison drilled a free throw with five seconds left to provide St. Mary’s with a one-possession lead and allowing the Warriors a chance to try and knot the game and send it into overtime with a 3.
St. Mary’s defense was up to the task, however, and forced a Brother Rice turnover to clinch the much-needed win.
The Eaglets’ assault for much of the night was ignited by senior forward Roger Hood. Making his first start of the year, the lanky 6-foot-4 forward scored a game-high 21 points, 15 of them in the first half.
“My shots were going in early-on, so I kept shooting it,” said Hood of his mentality on the floor Friday. “I knew we needed more scoring and I took it upon myself to give that type of effort.”
McCree has been carrying much of the offensive load for St. Mary’s this winter. He had 17 points and seven rebounds in Friday’s game.
Brother Rice (7-4, 1-3) had three different players reach double-figures in scoring, headlined by senior captain Patrick Sparks’ 16 points and eight rebounds. Feldman and junior forward Kevin Hayes each put in 11 points apiece.
Free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter hurt the Warriors. They went 1-of-7 from the line in the final six minutes.
“We need to be able to avoid these lulls we’re encountering, if we clear that up, we can play with anybody around,” Warriors head coach Ed Shaffer said.
Less than two weeks ago, Shaffer’s club upset St. Mary’s on the road in overtime. Back on Tuesday, Brother Rice blasted Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in a Catholic League crossover.