NORMAL | With an all-junior starting lineup, the future is bright for the Marian Catholic boys basketball team.
And, Tuesday’s outcome in the Class 4A Normal Super-sectional likely will only fuel that fire for a return visit to the elite eight and beyond in 2014.
Playing in their first super-sectional, the Spartans fell victim to a deep and experienced Edwardsville team, 68-49, at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena.
It was a night where, after the first quarter, not much went the Spartans’ way as the season ended with a school-best 29-4 record.
“I thought they played confident and we didn’t,” Marian coach Mike Taylor said. “Their experienced really showed.”
With a 13th straight win, the Tigers (30-2) advance to a state semifinal against Lincolnshire Stevenson at 8:15 p.m. Friday in Peoria. Stevenson defeated Rockford Boylan, 73-67.
Marian point guard Tyler Ulis had a team-high 20 points on 7-of-20 shooting, just below his 22 points per game average. He misfired on all six 3-point attempts, while the Spartans were 0 of 11 from downtown as a team. Edwardsville dominated the rebounding category 31-16.
“At this point in the season, you can’t win with just one person. We got beat by a better team,” Taylor said.
After an 11-11 first quarter, Edwardsville held the Spartans to just two points in the second quarter to take a 23-13 halftime lead.
With Purdue coach Matt Painter on hand, Ulis tried to keep the Spartans in it with a scoring burst to start the second half, converting on three straight drives that cut the lead to 30-21.
“We were too passive early,” Ulis said. “They came out in a zone, and we didn’t execute our plays and couldn’t score the ball. They came out and played well and we played terrible. All we can do is get back together and prepare for next year.”
Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo was pleased with his team’s defensive effort against Ulis.
“He creates a lot of problems,” Waldo said. “But I thought we did a good job of limiting his opportunities. I thought the job that Tre’ Harris did on him was a key to our game.”
Edwardsville’s 6-foot-5 guard Garrett Covington and teammate Armon Fletcher took over inside to open a 43-27 lead after the third. Covington, a Western Illinois signee, finished with a game-high 25 points, including four 3-pointers, while Fletcher added 13 points and nine rebounds. Covington had 14 points after halftime.
The Tigers, who lost to Bloom at Redbird Arena last year, finished 23 of 34 from the field.
“We don’t have the 'bigs,' so we have to create shots off our defense, and we didn’t do that,” Taylor said.
Guard Ki-Jana Crawford had nine points, four steals and a team-high five rebounds for Marian.
Edwardsville’s Armon Fletcher had 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Harris also finished with 13 points and Shawn Roundtree added 10 points and six assists.
It is Edwardsville’s first state appearance since 2005-06.
“This is a good reward for our guys,” Waldo said. “This time of year our guys appreciate the chance to get to play again.”