FRANKFORT | Last season, Marian Catholic won the girls Class 4A state basketball title. Tuesday, with a new coach, the Spartans set about defending it.
Or did they?
"That was last year," senior forward Ashton Millender said. "This is a new year. We're not trying to keep our minds on 'we're the state champs.'"
Marian handled Lincoln-Way East with ease, posting a 67-37 win. Millender's 21 points led the Spartans, who also got 15 points from Jerell Matthews, 13 points and nine rebounds from Dajhae Mullins, and 14 rebounds from Kauai Bradley.
The Griffins, 20-9 last year, were led by Kara Krolicki's 21 points.
"We played pretty good, for the first time together with a new coach," Millender said.
That new coach, Dan Murray, agreed -- when the Spartans were truly able to play.
Fouls dominated the early going, as nine were called in the game's first three minutes.
"(The officials) talked this season about wanting to emphasize hand-checks, and obviously, they did that," Murray said. "When we were able to go back to our pressure in the second half, we were able to extend the lead."
Actually, the Spartans' biggest quarter was the first, when they scored 22 points behind 10 from the DePaul-bound Millender. A couple of quick buckets brought East to within 22-17 at the outset of the second, but the Griffins never threatened again as Marian outscored them 17-9 the rest of the way to intermission, Matthews dropping in 10 of those.
East struggled to score in the second half, the Spartans limiting the the Griffins to 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting while forcing them into nine of their 17 turnovers.
Murray hopes the Spartans are able to force the tempo often this season.
"We need to push the ball, to flow with our offense," he said. "We're pretty dangerous when we can get into the open floor."
Veteran East coach Jim Martin found the Spartans dangerous at any speed.
"This is the slowest -- not that they're slow. (Murray) had them under control," Martin said. "It was the first game for him. He wanted to run his sets.
"It was a very patient, very well-executed team. They did a nice job doing what he wanted in the system. I'm sure they'll go up and down a little quicker as time goes on."