Fenwick boys basketball coach Rick Malnati viewed his team’s Chicago Catholic League crossover win over Brother Rice on Friday as dinner and Saturday’s nonconference upset of Benet as dessert. The palatable hoops characterization seems apt considering his family’s business is Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria. More importantly, the Friars proved how dangerous they can be for any opponent with a pair of superb performances.
Fenwick (6-2, 3-0 CCL North) cruised past visiting Brother Rice 67-39 and consolidated that win with a very impressive 54-45 victory against Benet and outstanding center Sean O’Mara, who has committed to Xavier. Relentless defense triggered both of the Friars’ confidence-building wins.
Fenwick led Brother Rice from start to finish and held the typically proficient range-shooting Crusaders to just eight points in the third quarter. The Friars also limited Benet to 4 of 23 shooting from behind the arc.
“We executed very well defensively,” Fenwick center Dan Dwyer said. “We were also unselfish with the ball on offense. Everybody out there for us was scoring. It was a really good team win.”
6-foot-5 forward Tom Planek, in the midst of an excellent senior campaign, paced the Friars with 15 points and six rebounds against Brother Rice.
“We had a big advantage with our matchups in the post,” Fenwick junior Kevin Owens said. “Coach Malnati really wanted us to get it to our big men. That’s where we had the advantage.”
Malnati, who has preached stifling defense as the team’s top priority, praised the Friars’ resistance work over the weekend.
“One of our goals [against Brother Rice] was to do a better job defensively, and we did just that,” Malnati said. “We did a great job guarding them and held them way below what they normally score in a game.”
Up two points on Benet at halftime, the Friars closed the third quarter with an 8-0 spurt, including two timely three-pointers from Owens, who finished with four makes from behind the arc for the game. Fueled by Owens’ distance shooting and aforementioned team defense, the Friars essentially maintained their margin of victory the rest of the way against the Redwings.
“I had a lot of fun in [Saturday’s] game,” Dwyer said. “Our guards did a good job of making sure that their guards didn’t get a lot of three-pointers. We executed really well on offense.”
Sophomore guard Mike Smith led the Friars with 16 points and five assists, while Dwyer tallied 14 points and five rebounds. Owens also netted 14 points and Planek hauled down a team-high nine rebounds. O’Mara had 20 points and 13 boards for the Benet (6-1).
“At the end of the game, it just came down to who wanted it more,” Owens said. “We were pretty evenly matched, but we pulled out the victory.”
After losing a close game to Normal U-High 72-67 at the Chicago Elite Classic (Dec. 7), Malnati knew the Friars would take advantage of their next opportunity to beat a highly-ranked team like Benet.
“We got a chance to get that [Normal U-High] game back,” Malnati said. “It really challenged the kids to remember what that felt like in the locker room after losing that game at the Chicago Elite Classic. They didn’t want that same feeling against Benet.”
After taking on Providence in New Lenox Friday, The Friars host cross-town rival Oak Park and River Forest Saturday at 7 p.m. Led by Erick Locke, Simmie Cobbs and Jason Gant, the Huskies (7-1) are athletic, explosive and (like Fenwick) stingy on defense.
“It’s definitely going to be a fun game,” Dwyer said. “Our place is going to be packed. The OPRF game is always one of our favorite games of the year.”
Owens added: “We’re going to be playing some great teams the rest of the season, so it’s really just all about staying focused.”