Kevin Cunningham came to the rescue.
In a game which was frantically going in the wrong direction, the Loyola Academy senior guard calmly drained two critical free throws to secure a 40-37 victory over visiting Notre Dame on Dec. 12.
Fans from ND did their job. As Cunningham stepped to the foul line with 10.8 seconds left in regulation, they turned into a chorus and loudly chanted: “You will miss! You will miss!”
Cunningham, though, didn’t blink.
“I was pretty confident,” said Cunningham, who led all scorers with 15 points go along with four rebounds and two assists. “Knock them down and get back on defense and make a stop.
“You can’t doubt yourself in that situation,” he added. “I wanted to be the one who got fouled. I wanted to go to the line.”
Sounds good to LA head coach Tom Livatino.
“We want the ball in his hands at the end of a [tight] game,” the coach said. “He’s the one we want at the free-throw line in a situation like that.”
“I couldn’t have picked a better person to go the line,” added LA senior Pete Mangan, who tallied 10 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. “I knew he’d make ’em.”
Credit Notre Dame (3-4) for making things interesting down the stretch. After falling behind by 15 points with 5:52 play in the fourth quarter, the energetic Dons went on a 16-2 run to cut LA’s lead to one point, 38-37, with 25 seconds left.
“We could easily have imploded tonight,” said Livatino. “There sure were signs of that.”
LA committed five turnovers in the final five minutes of the game.
“But we were able to come away with a win,” the coach added. “And that’s a sign of a good team.”
The Ramblers (6-1), according to Livatino, are still trying to find consistency on offense.
“We still haven’t found a flow,” said the LA coach.
But the defense?
“That didn’t wane tonight,” said Livatino.
The Ramblers pitched a shutout in the second quarter. In getting outscored 12-0 in the period, the Dons turned the ball over six times and missed all eight of their shot attempts.
Mangan was the star of the second quarter. In eight minutes of action, he had eight points, two rebounds, two steals, one assist and zero turnovers.
“Pete carried us in the first half,” said Cunningham. “He definitely gave us a spark.”
Cunningham, meanwhile, took the baton in the third quarter. He hit a pair of three-pointers to finish the frame with eight points.
Connor Barrett also finished in double figures (10 points) for the Ramblers, while Jordan Kwiecinski (3 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block) and Bennett Kwiecinski (2 points, 2 rebounds) also helped the LA cause.
Notre Dame was led by freshman guard Anthony Sayles (13 points) and 6-foot-9 junior Dusan Mahorcic (11 points).
LA’s Game Balls: Kevin Cunningham (Sr., G), Pete Mangan (Sr., C)
ND’s Game Balls: Anthony Sayles (Fr., G), Dusan Mahorcic (Jr., C)
LA’s Player of the Game: Cunningham
LA’s Stat Leaders
— Cunningham (15 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists)
— Mangan (10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals)
— Connor Barrett (10 points)
ND’s Stat Leaders
— Sayles (13 points)
— Mahorcic (11 points)
LA’s Unsung Hero: Ryan Evans
Notable: The Ramblers showed no fear going up against the 6-foot-9 Dusan Mahorcic. In the second quarter, the 6-foot-3 Pete Mangan challenged Mahorcic and scored on a drive down the lane. In third quarter, 6-0 Kevin Cunningham took a pass from John Lynch on a give-and-go and beat Mahorcic off the dribble. And, in the fourth quarter, 6-3 Connor Barrett used a reverse layup to score on Mahorcic.