While winning the Class 3A state title this year remains the ultimate goal, the Fenwick High School boys basketball team has already accomplished a lot this season.
The Friars kicked off the season by winning their John Malone Thanksgiving Tournament, advanced to the Proviso West Holiday Tournament finals for the first time since 1977 and notched significant nonconference wins over Whitney Young, Bogan, Simeon and Riverside-Brookfield among others.
The team has won 11 games in a row and 13 of 14 in 2016.
Fenwick (24-2, 9-0) cruised past St. Joseph 73-51 in Saturday’s Chicago Catholic League final to add a conference championship to its ever-expanding haul of accomplishments.
“To go undefeated in such a great conference is huge for us,” Fenwick guard Quinn Fisher said. “We haven’t won this league in a long time. We knew we could do it but it still feels great.”
The Friars previously defeated the highly regarded Chargers 54-42 on Jan. 28 as part of a season sweep.
While the teams’ initial meeting was close until the fourth quarter, Fenwick took control early in the rematch at DePaul’s McGrath-Phillips Arena.
Leading 18-8 after one quarter, the Friars went on a 15-0 run extending their lead to 33-8 on a 3-pointer by Fisher midway through the second quarter. Fenwick made five of its first seven 3-pointers to set the tone offensively.
“We’ve been working on shooting a lot,” Fenwick guard Mike Smith said. “It’s been paying off with us being able to hit a lot of 3-pointers and making other key shots.”
Although St. Joseph cut the deficit a bit with a 13-5 run, Fenwick still enjoyed a 38-21 halftime lead.
Smith had a game-high 27 points for Fenwick, which outscored the Chargers 35-30 in the second half. Fisher (14 points) and Jacob Keller (10 points) also reached double figures. Center Charlie Boyle chipped in seven points.
While the Friars were never threatened in the second half, they shot well from the charity stripe by making 7 of 9 free throws in the fourth quarter.
“We played with good energy today,” Fenwick coach Rick Malnati said. “When we got stops in the game, we turned those stops into breaks. There were a lot fouls called so we were able to get to the line a lot. We shot the ball well and made extra passes.
“Last time we played (St. Joseph) they blocked a lot of our shots, but this time we brought the ball down and passed it away.”
Defensively, Fenwick was solid from start to finish.
“We have always had a small team so we work on things like boxing out and taking charges,” Fisher said. “It means a lot to win (the Catholic League) game.”
Senior center Nick Rakocevic led St. Joseph (19-8) with a monster double-double of 21 points and 18 rebounds and highly touted freshman guard Marquise Walker contributed 12.
Chicago Bulls star guard Jimmy Butler watched the game from the front row. Butler took photos and chatted with Smith after the game.
“It was really exciting to go out there and play and have a Chicago Bulls player out there watching me,” Smith said. “And it felt great to win this championship.”
The Friars’ victory was even more impressive considering star forward Mike Ballard missed the game with an ankle injury.
“We’re always ready,” Fisher said. “When we lose someone, the next guy up is ready to play.”
Fenwick will host Hillcrest on Senior Night (Wed., Feb. 24) to close out the regular season. Tip-off is 7 p.m.