By Jeff Vorva Daily Southtown

Brother Rice senior Brandon Bryant hugged and consoled St. Rita senior Christian Henry.

Shortly before the hug, Bryant hit a free throw with 10 seconds left to put the Crusaders up by three points.

With Bryant hounding him on the final play, Henry’s 3-point attempt bounced off the rim. St. Rita’s James Brown came up with the putback, but then the buzzer sounded, and Brother Rice had a wild 49-48 home Catholic League Blue victory.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Bryant said of Henry. “He’s like family to me. He’s like a brother. We’ve played together. We’ve worked out together. We would push each other.”

Bryant played his final high school game in the Brother Rice gym. The Crusaders (12-1, 11-1) were scheduled to face St. Laurence in Burbank on Saturday with the hopes of winning a co-championship in the league with Fenwick.

Henry played his final high school game as St. Rita (4-8, 4-6), which feature four heralded freshmen, ended its season.

With DePaul Prep shocking Whitney Young, ranked No. 2 in Class 4A in the poll by The Associated Press, in a 55-43 win and Fenwick beating No. 3 Mundelein 60-52 in the quarterfinals of the Chipotle Clash of Champions on Friday night, an argument could be made that the CCL Blue is the best conference in the state.

“It’s a tough conference,” Bryant said. “We feel like we can compete with anyone in the (Chicago Public League).”

Brother Rice’s Brandon Bryant (2) and St. Rita’s Elias Morris (25) go after a loose ball during a game in Chicago on Friday, March 12, 2021.
Brother Rice’s Brandon Bryant (2) and St. Rita’s Elias Morris (25) go after a loose ball during a game in Chicago on Friday, March 12, 2021. (John Smierciak / Daily Southtown)

While Brother Rice did not bring in the preseason hype as some of the other CCL teams did, the Crusaders put together a huge season, which includes a buzzer-beating win over Fenwick. Their lone blemish was Monday’s 50-38 loss to DePaul. Their game against Mount Carmel on Wednesday was canceled, so they had some time to think about that setback.[Most read] Column: Mitch Trubisky’s time as a Chicago Bears quarterback is nearing the end after only 4 seasons. Where did the time go? »

But they weren’t thinking about it.

“We put that one behind us,” Bryant said. “We want to win the CCL, and we focused on these two games this weekend.”

In the game against St. Rita, neither team led by more than five points, and there were four lead changes and a tie in the fourth quarter before Cullen Cosme hit a basket while he was fouled and put in a free throw with 2:50 left to give the Crusaders a 42-41 lead.

Bryant led Brother Rice with 12 points, while Cosme and Luke Moustakas each had 11.

Morez Johnson led St. Rita with 12 points, and Brown added 10.

St. Rita’s Morez Johnson (21) and Brother Rice’s Ahmad Henderson (11) fight for a rebound during a game in Chicago on Friday, March 12, 2021.
St. Rita’s Morez Johnson (21) and Brother Rice’s Ahmad Henderson (11) fight for a rebound during a game in Chicago on Friday, March 12, 2021. (John Smierciak / Daily Southtown)

Johnson, Brown, Jaedin Reyna and Joshua Pickett are freshmen who came into the season with accolades and Division I offers. They impressed in losses to Fenwick (63-60), St. Laurence (50-48) and Young (60-52). They made highlight-reel plays against Brother Rice. But they lacked experience against players who are two and three years older than they are.

“The goal was to get better this year,” St. Rita coach Roshawn Russell said. “We had a lot to learn. Most games we started four freshmen, and it’s hard to win that way. I’m truly proud of our guys to come in and play on the road against a rival like Brother Rice and take it down to the wire. I think it says a lot about our team.

“They stuck together through tough times, and this group is as special as advertised. They are going to be really good.”

Original article: chicagotribune.com

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