NORMAL | When nothing seemed to want to go in the basket from close range for the Marian Catholic girls basketball team, Gabrielle Cooper was more than happy to try from much farther out.
With the Spartans’ lead over Geneva in the Class 4A third-place game shifting from comfortable to tenuous in the second half, the sophomore guard restored calm with three 3-pointers off the bench to lift the Spartans to a 45-34 victory Saturday night at Redbird Arena.
The third-place trophy follows the Spartans’ state title from a year ago and gives them five pieces of state hardware since 2002. Marian finishes the season at 28-5.
“It’s a great feeling,” Spartans coach Dan Murray said. “The credit goes to the girls and how hard they worked from Day 1 to get themselves back down here.
"They should be awful proud of their accomplishments.”
Geneva (26-7) trimmed a deficit that reached 14 points in the first half down to three in the third quarter. But Cooper hit back-to-back 3-pointers 33 seconds apart to re-establish the Spartans’ cushion and confidence.
“My teammates kept telling me to shoot the ball, so I shot it,” said Cooper, who also hit big shots in Marian’s sectional victories.
Cooper averaged 3.9 points per game this season and made 19 of 58 3-point attempts. The offensive reboot Cooper provided was certainly well-timed.
“Without question,” Murray said. “We were getting a couple of good looks, but the biggest thing was (missing shots) wouldn’t let us get our pressure set up. But Gabby stepped up and made some big shots.”
Cooper finished with 10 points in just 15 minutes. Senior forward Ashton Millender led all scorers with 16 points and led the Spartans with seven rebounds. Junior point guard Teniya Page had nine assists and five points.
After getting blown out in the first few minutes by Chicago Whitney Young in a semifinal loss a night earlier, the Spartans returned to aggressive play early.
Geneva was forced into eight first-quarter turnovers, while Millender hit all three of her 3-pointers in the first eight minutes to spark Marian to a 16-4 lead.
“We just wanted to forget about (Friday),” Millender said, “and come out and play our game.”
Marian led 23-10 at half but went scoreless in the third quarter save for Cooper’s 3-pointer with 3:17 left to make it 26-17.
Geneva shot just 21 percent from the field but managed to close the gap at the free throw line as Marian found foul trouble.
The Vikings went 9 of 15 from the stripe as the Spartans were struggling to finish in transition at the other end to make it 26-21 at the end of the third quarter.
Geneva was led by 6-foot junior guard Abby Novak’s 13 points off the bench. Freshman center Grace Loberg had a game-high 12 rebounds.