CINCINNATI — Mater Dei High School's 63-50 victory over Cincinnati Purcell Marian in the Blue Chip City basketball tournament Saturday at Riverfront Coliseum was the tonic Coach Gary McKnight had been seeking for his team.
The Monarchs, which were 147-7 in McKnight's five previous seasons and the defending 5-A state champions, had dropped two straight games in the Beverly Hills tournament a little more than a week ago. That had McKnight concerned coming into this game.
"This was very important to us," said McKnight, whose team is 7-2. "We have to go down to the Seagull Classic (in Atlantic City) next week, and we felt this win was very important to get us going back in the right direction."
Though it wasn't a virtuoso performance by either team offensively, Mater Dei may have come up with its best defensive effort of the season.
The Monarchs switched defenses continually, going from a man to a tightly packed zone. It threw Purcell Marian off its game in the second half, save for senior guard P.J. Mays, who was named the game's most valuable player with 23 points and 8 rebounds.
Still, Purcell hit only 19 of 53 attempts from the field for 36%.
"Since I can remember, that's probably the best defense we've played," said senior forward Kevin Rembert, who scored 14 points and had 12 rebounds. "We've been working on switching defenses quite a bit lately, and it really paid off tonight."
Mater Dei held a 28-23 halftime lead, but the lead changed hands several times in the first three quarters. With 51 seconds left in the third quarter, a steal and fast-break layup by guard Mike Hopkins put Mater Dei up for good at 36-34.
Hopkins, a senior guard headed for Syracuse, was high scorer for the Monarchs with 16 points. Hopkins was 10 for 10 from the free-throw line. Senior forward Char Ruppel added 13 points.
The basket by Hopkins was the beginning of a 14-2 scoring run for Mater Dei. Purcell (2-5) never recovered.
"I thought the six-point spurt at the end of the third quarter was a big key. I felt a lot better at that point," McKnight said."
"We just couldn't get over the hump," Purcell Coach Jim Stoll said. "It seemed like we'd get a spurt, and then it'd stop."