By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published January 22, 2009
The Our Lady of Mercy High School varsity boys team came to the Jan. 17 home game against Kennesaw’s North Cobb Christian School with a 10-game winning streak and an overall record of 12-2. Mercy was also undefeated in its gymnasium, but one of its two road losses was a 10-point defeat at the hands of North Cobb on Dec. 5.
Mercy fell behind in the early stages of the game and North Cobb held a 16-8 lead at the end of the first period. North Cobb junior forward Bradley Hereth and senior center Milos Kleut combined for 23 points as North Cobb took a 36-20 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Our Lady of Mercy senior forward Richie Obiora scored the first basket of the second half. Combined with the shooting of his senior teammates, guard Robert Caruso, the team’s third leading scorer, and forward Nnamdi Moh, the team’s leading rebounder and scorer and the first player in school history to score over 1,000 points, Mercy cut the North Cobb halftime lead from 16 to eight by the end of the third period. Kleut, the 6-foot-10 center, also had to sit out the last 1:05 of the third period after picking up his fourth foul.
Caruso scored on a driving layup to the basket from the right side, Obiora completed a 3-point play (2-point basket and foul shot) and the North Cobb lead was trimmed to four points. Kleut returned with 6:20 left in the game and they fed him the ball inside at every opportunity. Kleut went to the foul line four times in a span of three minutes. Mercy continued to keep it close and with 1:07 left Caruso hit a 3-pointer to draw his team within two, 57-59. With 47.3 seconds remaining Mercy’s Moh picked up his fifth foul, which sent Kleut to the foul line. Kleut converted both foul shots, but on the defensive end of the court he fouled Obiora with 34.4 seconds in the game, fouling out.
Free throw shooting and time became critical elements of the game. Obiora made one of two to bring Mercy back within three, but that’s as close as they would get. With time running out they were also forced to foul. Mercy senior guard Matt Lethbridge committed his fifth foul with 15.9 seconds remaining to send North Cobb guard Romeo Lewis to the foul line. Lewis hit both free throws to give his team a 64-59 victory. Obiora, Moh and Caruso finished with 23, 15 and 8 points, respectively.
Mercy head coach Tony Caruso said, “I was pleased with our team’s effort. I just thought we missed some shots in the first half that put us in a hole. Other than some defensive adjustments at halftime, I told the team to go back to doing what we do best. We shot better in the second half, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”
The team learned some things from the loss, he said, like not to panic when behind but to play the game in a composed manner while chipping away at a lead. He also said his team is starting to believe that in the face of good competition, when they play the kind of game they’re capable of playing, they too are a pretty good team.
Caruso added, “The key to our success this year is our team chemistry. We have five great senior leaders and none has an agenda. The only agenda is to win.”
Mercy (12-3) plays host to Whitefield Academy Friday, Jan 23.