By Calli Newberry
It may as well have been a district championship.
Instead, it was the championship of the Marine City Cardinal Mooney Christmas tournament, but the Cardinal Mooney High School boys basketball team played with no less intensity.
The Cardinals took on the Memphis Yellowjackets Tuesday night for what would become their highest-scoring game of the season, ending in a 77-62 victory. But it didn’t start off that way.
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Memphis scored the first bucket to start and kept pace to finish the quarter with a 16-13 lead, but a minute into the second, Cardinal Mooney senior guard Julian Iodice (13 points) was fouled on the shot and made the and-1, sparking his offense.
From there, fellow senior guard Luc Julio made back-to-back 3-pointers that put the Cardinals in the driver’s seat. Once they held a 25-22 advantage, they never looked back.
“We just weren’t playing as hard as we possibly could [in the first quarter]. Once we started getting out and running, the score took care of itself,” junior guard Trent Rice said. “It was our best offensive game of the year. The energy was there. Once [we] started hitting shots, and started getting warm, we were pretty much unstoppable tonight.”
Rice led Cardinal Mooney on both ends of the floor with 17 points, 11 steals, and eight rebounds.
“He’s just all over the court defensively and offensively,” head coach Mike McAndrews said. “The way he can finish at the rim with one dribble. I’ve said this to a couple of college coaches that I’ve talked to, he easily gives us 10 to 15 extra possessions a game just based on his effort and athleticism.”
And to get those extra possessions, you need speed, according to Rice.
“I use my speed. Getting steals, getting out, and running creates a lot more opportunities for my teammates, so I try to do that every single possession,” he said. “Seeing the whole court is something that I pride myself on and being able to make those passes, especially in practice, Coach is always emphasizing passing, and it turns out to be a huge thing.”
The Cardinals were undersized with only a handful of players breaking the 6-foot benchmark, but they were able to compensate with fast feet and quick passing.
The ball would zip across the court two or three times before one of the Cardinals pulled up to shoot, wreaking havoc for the opposing defense.
“It’s something we work on every day. Our first 45 minutes of practice for the last 20 years has never changed. It’s all fundamentals,” McAndrews said. “We do a drill for six minutes that we call ‘perfect passing’. It’s basic, but it’s quick and we’re moving and they can’t drop the ball for six minutes straight. We probably make 300, 400 passes in six minutes.”
Sophomore Brian Everhart led the Cardinals’ passing campaign with four assists on the night, in addition to 17 points. Julio also chipped in with 13 points, four of which came on 3-pointers.
“I don’t really think when I shoot. If I want to, I go for it. I know when to shoot and when not to shoot, but if I’m feeling it, I’m feeling it and I’m going to shoot no matter what,” Julio said. “It just gives me chills every time I make one. Most of the time you get yelled at by the coach because you want to celebrate, but looking back and seeing everybody in the stands, it’s a great time.”
The Cardinals celebrated their victory with the many friends, family, and alumni in attendance, something McAndrews said was extra special this year.
“We didn’t even get to do it last year…It’s something we look forward to, it’s a big alumni event for us,” he said. “It brings a lot of old faces back, a lot of guys who have been in our program.”
“This tournament is just fun all the way around,” Julio added. “It’s good to be back in here with everybody, all the kids, all the parents, and for everyone to come back out, it just shows the tradition of when you go through Cardinal Mooney basketball, you come back and you remember it.”