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January 14, 2008

St. Bens Size Topples Rice

Coming into Sunday afternoon's game at the Nike Super 6, both Rice and St. Benedicts had played similar seasons. Both teams had only lost one game and both teams are nationally ranked.


However, that is where similarities end, as Rice of New York is a strong backcourt team while St. Benedict's of New Jersey uses their immense size and talent in the frontcourt to overwhelm opponents. Overwhelm they did, as they were able to out-execute Rice in the final minutes to win 55-52 at Madison Square Garden.

Samardo Samuels, one of the best frontcourt players in the country, did not start today because of team issues, said St. Benedict's head coach and former Seton Hall star Danny Hurley. However, the Newark school still boasted a talented front line, as highly-recruited 6'9" senior Greg Echinique started alongside lanky 6'7" Tristan Thompson, both of whom are much bigger than most of Rice's roster. St. Benedict's began the game by going with their talented frontcourt, as the Gray-Bee's went to the big man Echenique early and often. Rice, who is a guard-laden team, had nobody that could match up with Echenique size-wise. Rice forward Dorvell Carter was hot early from the field as he scored 7 points for Rice in the opening quarter. However, Rice was out rebounded 7-3 and looked like they had some tired legs, which is understandable considering the fact that they had played St. Raymond's the night before this game, and was outscored 17-13 in the opening frame.

As the second quarter began, St. Benedict's coach knew the importance that would play in this match up with the undersized Rice, so he decided to put the wide bodied 6'8" Samardo Samuels, who is headed to Louisville next year, into the game. Samuels did not make the immediate impact that Hurley was hoping for, as the senior only scored 2 points in the second quarter. Part of that was due to the solid defensive effort put forth by Rice junior forward James Stukes, who found success in fronting the post against Echenique and Samuels during the first half. Junior guard Tamir Jackson was able to pick up the slack for the Gray-Bee's, scoring 10 points in the opening half of play.

The good play of Stukes in the second quarter must've been contagious, as Rice was able to go on an 11-3 run to begin the second quarter to go up 25-20 and take a 25-22 lead into halftime. Highly touted junior forward Durand Scott, who has been playing with a hurt back, and the forward Carter both scored 7 points a piece in the first half to lead the Raiders.

Coach Hurley brought out the two-headed frontcourt monster of Samuels and Echenique to start the second half. Both Samuels and Echenique dominated on the defensive and offensive glass in the third quarter, which gave St. Ben's several second and third opportunities to score on the offensive end and switched the momentum of the game. Tamir Jackson's bucket with 2:32 left in the third gave the Gray-Bee's a 38-32 lead and St. Ben's ended the quarter with a seemingly comfortable 42-34 advantage.

However, if coach Hurley's squad figured that coach Maurice Hicks' Raiders would let the school from across the river run away with the game, then they were definitely mistaken. The talented backcourt of long-range threat Chris Fouch, UConn-bound Kemba Walker, Durand Scott and Dorvell Carter led the Rice attack that chipped away at the St. Ben's lead. A Walker lay-up with 1:44 left in the game tied the game at 49 a piece. However, the ball went down low to the usually-dominant Samuels, who finished a tough lay-up, got the foul call and made the ensuing lay-up to give the New Jersey school a 52-49 lead. The offensive possessions for the CHSAA's Rice after the and-one play by Samuels proved to be unsuccessful, and St. Benedict's was able to escape with a 55-52 win at the Garden.

The senior forward Samuels won MVP as he finished with 14 points and 13 boards. The senior point guard Walker who scored 18 points but turned the ball over eight times led Rice. Durand Scott chipped in 14 points for Rice in the losing effort.

After the game, St. Benedict's coach Danny Hurley was upset with the focus of his team at the beginning of the game, especially coming off of their first loss of the season. "We made some mistakes and our philosophy is built around our great 4 and 5 men (Samuels and Echenique) and when you're big piece (Samuels) is not there physically or mentally for a half, you'll look bad," said Hurley. On the losing side, Rice coach Maurice Hicks didn't believe that playing and beating their biggest rival in overtime, St. Raymond's, the day before the St. Benedict's game, had much of an effect on his players. "Being that we're playing here at the Garden, I thought my guys would still be fired up to play even though we played a very important game and a league game against St. Raymond's last night," said Hicks.

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