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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A feel-good win: James Brown is his name, big-time basketball down the stretch is his game for St. Rita. ‘We need him.’

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Junior center James Brown is one of the state’s top recruits and most talented players, but on a loaded St. Rita team, he does not feel the urge to force shots.

Brown is willing to let his skilled teammates do their thing and wait for his moments, even if that means his stats take a hit.

“It’s really easy,” Brown said. “The goal for all of us is to win. When the goal is to win, it doesn’t matter who has 20 points and who has two.

“Everybody’s trying to win, so everyone is willing to sacrifice their own success for team success.”

Speaking of team success, Brown had just two points through three quarters Friday night but was huge down the stretch.

He finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds to lift St. Rita to a 57-51 Catholic League Blue victory over host Brother Rice in a hostile environment in Chicago.

Lemont transfer Nojus Indrusaitis led the Mustangs (4-3, 2-0) with 19 points. Illinois recruit Morez Johnson added 16 points and eight rebounds, while Homewood-Flossmoor transfer Nashawn Holmes had eight points.

Niagara recruit Ahmad Henderson poured in 28 points for Brother Rice (8-1, 2-1). Jimmy Navarette scored eight points off the bench and Zavier Fitch chipped in with seven points.

Brown’s patience was tested early when he picked up two fouls and went to the bench.

St. Rita's Nojus Indrusaitis (5) dunks against Brother Rice during a Catholic League Blue game in Chicago on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2022.

“I saw Morez out there fighting, Nojus and everyone else out there fighting,” Brown said. “Not being able to go out there and help them was extremely frustrating.

“But that’s the great thing about our team. When one of goes down, we band together and we’re stronger than ever.”

Brown had his time to shine in the fourth quarter, causing the game’s biggest momentum swing.

After Brother Rice came up empty on five shots during a long possession, the Mustangs went the other way on a fast break and Jordan Chandler lobbed a pass to Brown for a thunderous alley-oop dunk.

Brother Rice's Peter McShane (2) and Brother Rice's Khalil Ross (31) try to box out St. Rita's James Brown (13) on a free throw during a Catholic League Blue game in Chicago on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2022.

Brown was fouled on the play, completing the 3-point play to give St. Rita a 52-45 lead with 2:30 remaining.

“It was a good dunk,” Brown said. “It was a great pass. It was a better pass than it was a dunk.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to make a momentum play and kind of change the game.”

Brown then hit four free throws in the final minute to seal the win.

That spoiled a tremendous performance from Henderson, who hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight points in the fourth to try to put his team over the top.

Brother Rice's Ahmad Henderson (11) goes to the basket as St. Rita's Joseph Worthington (11) defends during a Catholic League Blue game in Chicago on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2022.

The Crusaders, though, struggled shooting down the stretch.

“I think our effort was there,” Henderson said. “There are a couple game plan things that we had to think about afterward.

“Everyone played hard. We just fell short at the end.”

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With three transfers in its starting lineup, including Joseph Worthington-White — who came in from Indiana — St. Rita is looking to jell.

Three early losses, including an 86-59 defeat to Simeon, were tough to take. But Friday’s win was huge.

St. Rita's Nashawn Holmes (2) goes to the basket against Brother Rice during a Catholic League Blue game in Chicago on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2022.

“It’s going to be a bumpy road sometimes,” Indrusaitis said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We just have to stay composed and play together.”

It helps when you have someone like Brown to lead the way in crunchtime.

“It’s no secret that we’re a special team when James is on the floor,” St. Rita coach Roshawn Russell said. “So, our challenge to him is to find a way to stay out of foul trouble. There are some things we’ve been working on in practice. He stepped up big down the stretch. We trust him.

“He’s James Brown, so we need him.”

Steve Millar is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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