NILES – Jake Esp and the Marmion boys basketball team could practically do no wrong in the third quarter of Friday’s game at Niles Notre Dame.
Once the fourth quarter began, that groundswell of momentum vanished abruptly, and so did the Cadets’ chances to complete their comeback. Notre Dame prevailed in the nonconference matchup, 62-50.
A poor first half meant Marmion had a 14-point deficit to chase in the second half, and the Cadets were able to wipe it away in less than five minutes to open the third quarter.
Esp capped a 16-2 Cadets third quarter surge to tie the game, 34-all, on an inside basket with 3:18 to play in the quarter. The 6-foot-4 Sugar Grove resident scored 15 of his team-high 25 points in the quarter, going 6 for 6 from the floor and 3 for 3 from the free throw line.
Perhaps most impressive was a slick, spin move along the baseline that resulted in a three-point play as Esp trimmed the deficit to four points. He showed great versatility throughout the run.
“I put a lot of work last year into my moves and my shot, my mid-range shot,” Esp said.
Marmion coach Ryan Paradise admired the junior forward’s performance.
“We ran some things to try and get him some space, but he just had it going offensively,” Paradise said.
Notre Dame (7-7) reclaimed the lead quickly after the Cadets briefly tied it and maintained a narrow advantage the rest of the quarter, taking a 44-41 edge into the fourth.
That’s when Marmion (4-9) encountered a deep and costly funk offensively, reminiscent of the game’s early stages.
The Cadets came up dry offensively on each of their first six possessions of the fourth quarter, beginning with a charge call on point guard Michael Sheehan and concluding with a five-second call for a turnover.
In the meantime, the Dons were scoring with regularity at the other end, ballooning their lead back to 12 points before Marmion made a last, desperate push.
The Cadets mustered a 7-0 run capped by a Sheehan 3-pointer – the only made 3 for Marmion in 12 attempts – to come within 55-50 with 1:54 to play. But Notre Dame salted the game away at the free throw line, leaving Paradise to lament his team’s listless first half.
“It was uninspired, it was lifeless and, in the third quarter, we flipped a switch, but you can’t do that against a good team like Notre Dame and come out of here with a win,” Paradise said. “We were down too big, too early.”
Despite a steal and dunk by senior Tyler Maryanski in the closing seconds of the first half, Marmion trailed, 32-18, at the break. The Dons already had a 12-point lead at 18-6 after a long offensive rebound yielded a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Ammar Becar in the first quarter.
While Marmion enjoyed a banner night from Esp, Notre Dame had the night’s high scorer in lefty guard Joe Mooney, who scored 30 points. The junior’s older brother, Notre Dame graduate Matt Mooney, now plays at Air Force.
“There’s a little bit of history there, there’s a little genetics there,” Notre Dame coach Tom Les said. “Matt’s home for the holidays and I had lunch with him today. I told him that one of the jobs of an older brother is to make his younger brother better than he was. He does a good job of pushing him, and Joe has been coming along and doing a nice job.”
Junior guard Jordan Glasgow added eight points for the Cadets.