High school basketball: Ahmad Henderson dazzles as Brother Rice beats Marist to win The Battle of Pulaski


Brother Rice celebrates around Marist’s Kaden White (4) after winning the game.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Brother Rice senior guard Ahmad Henderson just couldn’t get the TikTok video right. He made a few attempts, but the fan’s phone wouldn’t cooperate.

It was odd watching him struggle with a common task after he made taking over a high school basketball game look so effortless.

The Battle of Pulaski was raging, with Crusaders fans screaming and Marist fans chanting. The RedHawks held a nine-point lead with 3:30 left, and their supporters could smell an upset over their rivals.

Henderson ended all that. First there was a gorgeous drive and elevation over all the defenders to score. Then there was an odd moment in the post where he almost lost the ball but somehow turned the mistake into an acrobatic bucket. There were two more drives to the basket for scores before a drive into the lane for a fadeaway jumper.

The ball hit the rim and bounced in, erasing No. 24 Marist’s lead for good. The RedHawks had two shots to win it on their next possession, but neither fell, and No. 7 Brother Rice won 49-48.

‘‘I knew it was coming all game,’’ Henderson said. ‘‘When it is winning time, I have to step up. My teammates needed me, and I had to deliver in that moment.’’

Henderson scored a game-high 18 points.

Crowds have been excellent all around the area this season, but fans seem quieter since COVID. That wasn’t the case in the Battle of Pulaski. It was hot, loud and intense.

‘‘That was so refreshing,’’ Henderson said. ‘‘The last couple of years things haven’t been the same, so that felt special. It was great to play in front of that crowd.’’

Junior guard Cale Cosme scored five points for the Crusaders and has emerged as a crucial second ballhandler. Khalil Ross, a 6-7 senior, had nine points and four rebounds, and 6-7 junior Zavier Fitch added nine points and a game-high eight rebounds for Brother Rice (19-2).

Brother Rice’s Ahmad Henderson (11) shoots the ball over Marist’s Achilles Anderson (24).

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Henderson’s first drive and basket on the game-winning run seemed to signal that something special was about to happen. Ross knew exactly what was coming.

‘‘I usually try to crash the glass when he’s going like that, in case he might miss it,’’ Ross said. ‘‘But in this game I tried to clear it out for him. There were smaller players around. He converted every time.’’

Sophomore Keshaun Vaval led Marist (17-5) with 13 points, and 6-4 sophomore Marquis Vance added 10 points and six rebounds. Senior guard Kaden White also scored 10 points for the RedHawks.

‘‘When they scored, it was deafening; when we scored, it was deafening,’’ Ross said. ‘‘Just back and forth every time. The gym was rocking. That’s as loud as I’ve ever heard it in my life.’’

Because Brother Rice coach Conte Stamas is a coach, the defensive stop at the end was the first thing on his mind, not Henderson’s offensive heroics.

‘‘We were a little sloppy handling the ball,’’ Stamas said. ‘‘Maybe it was the atmosphere. But it came down to the one defensive stop that we needed, and the guys really hung in there and got it.’’

It’s an extremely challenging week for the Crusaders. They host No. 25 Loyola on Friday and face No. 6 Rolling Meadows on Saturday at Benet.

‘‘This was like a sectional final,’’ Stamas said. ‘‘It’s my first experience with this, and it really was unbelievable. We knew this was going to be a big week for us, so it is nice to get this going back into the league against Loyola.’’

Ahmad Henderson has just taken over the game. Scored 10 in a row. This one puts Brother Rice up 49-48 with :11 left pic.twitter.com/dlcL9Ex3xp

— Michael O’Brien (@michaelsobrien) January 18, 2023

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