CHICAGO HEIGHTS | All-everything Marian Catholic point guard Tyler Ulis missed his first three shots Friday night. He attempted only one 3-pointer, and bricked it badly. At halftime, he had one basket, and finished the night with four.
Yet, after the top-ranked Spartans eased away in the fourth quarter for a 72-56, East Suburban Catholic Conference win over St. Viator, Marian coach Mike Taylor was effusive in his praise of the Kentucky-bound Ulis.
"I told the coaches at the end of the game, I think tonight proved why he's the best player in the state," Taylor said. "He couldn't shoot his jumper, but he took the game over by dishing the ball."
Ulis was hampered by a sprained right wrist, suffered in a Jan. 4 game in Michigan. Plus, he went to the bench with two fouls at 7:02 of the second quarter and sat for the rest of the half, save a 22-second burst in the final minute.
Still, he finished with 16 points -- making 6-of -6 free throws in the fourth quarter -- 11 assists and five steals. He had a hand in 18 of Marian's 24 fourth-quarter points — scoring 10 and assisting on four buckets — in a game the Spartans led just 48-45 through three.
"I just tried to get my teammates involved in this game," Ulis said. "I couldn't make the shots I normally make."
Terrone Parham had no such problems. He had 16 points in the first half, eight after Ulis sat down, and finished with a team-high 22. Drake-bound Ore Arogundade led St. Viator with 24.
"That's a big win in the conference race," Parham said. "We have a lot of confidence … we beat the two teams that beat us last year."
St. Viator (11-3, 2-1) and Benet were the only teams to beat Marian in the ESCC last season. Both losses have been avenged this season, as Marian (12-1, 2-0) topped Benet 89-84 in overtime five days before Christmas.
"Those are two quality opponents, two big wins," Taylor said. "But with only eight games in the conference, you never know who's going to trip you up. It's whoever's hot on a given night."
Early on for Marian, it was the West Point-bound Parham. The 6-foot-7 forward hit seven of his first nine shots from the floor and made it hard for the Spartans to miss Ulis.
Marian led just 16-15 when Ulis sat down, and the lead traded hands six times from that point to intermission. Parham made a steal and drove for a one-handed dunk with three seconds left to give the Spartans a 31-29 halftime lead.
"I wasn't frustrated, because Terrone stepped up so big," Ulis said. "We really didn't lose much when I sat on the bench."
Nor were they able shake the Lions. With 1:54 left in the third, St. Viator went up 45-42 on a Mark Falotico jumper.
From there, though, Ulis took over. He had two steals, made a free throw, found Chris Austin for a 3-pointer and made a terrific back-door bounce pass to a cutting Ezra-Pointer Jones as Marian ended the period with a 6-0 burst.
The game started more than an hour late due to the difficult road conditions St. Viator faced traveling from Arlington Heights.