Mike Smith

The Fenwick High School boys basketball team bounced back from Friday’s tough two-point loss at home against St. Joseph by notching a surprisingly lopsided 83-53 win over Proviso East on Saturday. 

Led by junior Mike Ballard’s masterful 28-point, 7-rebound performance, the Friars (12-5, 3-3 Chicago Catholic League North) controlled the action for most of the non-conference matchup, held at the McGrath Arena on the DePaul University campus as part of the Big City Classic. In other games at the one-night event, Bolingbrook bested Hillcrest 74-64 and Orr edged De La Salle 65-62.

After briefly trailing Proviso East in the Big City Classic finale, Fenwick went on a 10-0 run to lead 14-5 at the end of the first quarter. Ballard capped off the spurt with a three-pointer, the first of his four treys.

The sharp-shooting swingman was just getting started as he knocked in consecutive three-point shots from the right side to finish an 8-0 run late in the second quarter, extending the Friars’ advantage to 35-13.

“Ballard was amazing,” Fenwick junior guard Mike Smith said. “Everybody was playing together. [Fenwick sophomore] Jacob Keller stepped up big today, and we really just played together as a team.”

Smith contributed 19 points and Keller tallied 13 points. Sophomore standout Jamal Nixon also reached double figures with 10 points.

Proviso East junior guard Quinian Bennett stopped the Friars’ aforementioned second-quarter spurt with a basket from the middle, but Fenwick kept the pressure on when Keller made back-to-back layups that powered the Friars to a 41-19 halftime lead. Fenwick outscored the Pirates 42-34 in the second half.

Guard Kalin Fisher tallied a team-high 23 points and senior guard Marshawn Williams notched nine points for Proviso East (7-7). 

“We’ve got talented guys on our team,” Proviso East interim head coach Cedric McCullough said. “Kalin Fisher had a great night but he was trying to carry the load too much. Other guys know that they need to do the intangible things like cutting to the basket and getting the offensive rebounds. 

“We’ll watch some tape and get right back to work. I know these guys can get on point.”

McCullough has taken over the head coaching position for Donnie Boyce, a Proviso East alumnus and former NBA player, who worked as a security guard in the high school in addition to coaching the basketball team. Boyce was put on suspension, and has not been working in the school, nor coaching the Pirates.

On the court, Proviso East has also experienced some adversity (including its uncharacteristic, current five-game losing streak). Historically, Proviso East is one of the best boys basketball programs in the state with four state championships, two state runner-up finishes and nine former or current NBA players who played for the Pirates.

“This team knows that we’re not playing Proviso East basketball,” McCullough said. “Fenwick just outworked us. Our guys didn’t go out there and match their intensity. I told our team that they have to play hard. If they don’t go out there and match the other team’s intensity, this is what’s going to happen.”

While Fenwick shot well the entire game, the Pirates finished 19 of 50 from the floor.

Holding a commanding 75-51 lead with less than two minutes to play, the Friars offered a final 8-2 run to put an exclamation point on their superb showing.

“It feels good,” Smith said. “The same thing happened last year when we lost to St. Joe’s and bounced back [the following night] to beat Proviso East. It’s a good feeling to get the win on a Saturday and go home and enjoy the rest of the weekend.”

Although the Friars are 3-3 over their last six games, that’s largely due to playing one of the toughest schedules in the state. Fenwick has already claimed impressive victories over DePaul Prep, Benet and Proviso East in 2015.

Visiting St. Joseph edged Fenwick 64-62 on Friday night. Smith paced the Friars with 18 points, five rebounds and four assists. Keller added a career-high 17 points while Jamal Nixon and Ballard scored 13 and 11 points, respectively.

Northwestern-bound Jordan Ash scored a game-high 26 points and Nick Rakocevic had 13 points and eight rebounds for St. Joseph (14-3, 5-2 CCL North).

The Chargers led most of the way before Ballard tied the game at 46-46 on a three-pointer. Nixon made a couple of free throws with 12 seconds left in the game to give Fenwick its first lead at 62-61. 

The Chargers responded as Ash split a pair of free throws and Rakocevic made both of his attempts from the charity stripe to secure a hard-fought 64-62 victory. The Friars missed a couple of shots on a Smith layup and Keller jump shot blocked by Rakocevic in the closing seconds.

Fenwick visits St. Laurence on Friday (Jan. 30) before returning home Saturday (Jan. 31) to take on St. Rita. Both games tip off at 7 p.m.