When Rick Malnati was hired as the Fenwick High School boys basketball coach four years ago, a primary order of business was establishing a defensive identity for the Friars.
Based on the Friars’ demolition of Westinghouse 75-40 in the semifinals of the Fenwick Sectional of the Class 3A playoffs, it’s apparent the Friars’ defense is alive, well and suffocating as ever.
With players like seniors Jake Keller and Jamal Nixon and underclassmen DJ Steward and Damari Nixon, Fenwick has plenty of offensive firepower as well.
Defense sent the tone against Westinghouse, however, as Fenwick went on a 19-0 run in the first half. Nixon capped off the run with a tip-in basket to give the Friars a 29-6 lead with three minutes remaining until halftime.
The Warriors were held scoreless in the second quarter until Coreyoun Rushin made a 3-pointer at the 2:39 mark.
“What really was working for us was our defense,” Keller said. “Our defense got us most of our offense. We had alot of steals that led to baskets and that really kicked off our offense.
“We kept getting the ball in to Jamal (Nixon) and he was making plays by getting the ball in and out for 3-pointers. We were definitely clicking on all cylinders.”
Keller led Fenwick in scoring with 11 points and junior guard Billy Bruce contributed 10 points. Nixon had seven points, while Steward and junior guard AJ Nixon had six points apiece.
Keller, one of the best point guards in the area, can also dominate a game defensively. He certainly set a stingy tone against allowing Westinghouse any field goals.
“(Coach Rick Malnati) asked me if I wanted to play on the ball this game and be a defensive stopper,” Keller said. “I took the challenge because I really just wanted to play a lot of good on-ball defense and create a lot of turnovers.
” It was (Malnati) that really gave me the challenge to get all of those steals. The guys around me all played great team defense and that’s how we got a lot of our points.”
The Friars dominated the game from start to finish. Junior guard Sam Kure nailed a 3-pointer to finish off an 8-0 spurt midway through the fourth quarter that extended the lead to 72-30.
Even with a 10-3 run by the Warriors to close the game, Fenwick won by 35. The Friars (27-4) have won 14 games in a row and outscored their three 3A playoffs opponents 220-120.
The sectional host Friars take on the winner of North Lawndale vs. Farragut in Friday’s sectional championship game. Tip off is 7 p.m. at Fenwick.
Malnati and the Friars will be vying for the 100th win since he took over as the head coach in 2013.
“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing,” Keller said. “We have to keep playing good defense and work on our rebounding a little bit. On offense, we just have to keep passing the ball around, but we know that our defense will be key.”