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KANKAKEE — It had been 345 days since Bishop McNamara last played a boys basketball game before the Irish hosted Grace Christian on Monday. Irish coach Adrian Provost had a simple message for his team.

“Don’t look for yours; just share the basketball,” Provost told his team. “None of us have played in a year, so just share the basketball.”

The Irish did just that, recording 28 assists on 34 made baskets and saw four scorers reach double figures in their 82-29 handling of the Crusaders. McNamara point guard Jaxson Provost, who led the team with 10 assists, said whether on or off the ball, he and his teammates did what they could to set each other up for success.

“Nobody was worried about scoring for themselves,” Jaxson Provost said. “Everyone was worried about getting each other the next shot, setting good screens, making cuts, etc.”

It was all Irish from the jump after they scored the game’s first 11 points and never allowed the Crusaders to find a flow, thanks to a bouncy defense that was all over passing lanes and the boards, forcing 22 Crusaders turnovers and winning the rebounding battle 39-17.

Adrian Provost said with COVID-19 rules that limit fans and spaces team benches out, he needed his bench to carry more enthusiasm than a traditional setting to give the guys on the court the energy they showed on the defensive end.

“I told [the team] before the game I had no problem with an official having to warn our bench because we were too energetic,” Adrian Provost said. “We might as well practice if we’re going to play in a quiet gym. It’s a unique environment, and I think they enjoyed it.”

Alan Smith led the Irish with 20 points on the night. As a junior in his third year at the varsity level, Smith said he finally is starting to find some comfort with the varsity game and credited senior forward Andrew Arseneau, who sat out Monday’s game but was active on the sideline in helping his younger teammates go through plays during the game.

“It was a change in direction from junior high to high school, getting used to new people coming in and new teams, not knowing what to expect ...” Smith said. “Andrew knows all the plays, and we kind of direct [questions] towards him on our plays, especially me and at my spot.”

Monday marked Grace Christian’s first boys basketball game as an IHSA school. The Crusaders were set to open their season with River Valley Conference play at Illinois Lutheran on Tuesday before Monday night’s game was swiftly scheduled last week. As the season has begun quickly, the team didn’t have a full 10 players ready to practice and scrimmage one another until last weekend.

“Without being able to run much in practice, this is our first time seeing a lot of [live action], so it was nice to see it,” Crusaders coach Alan McGuirt said. “Now there’s some illustrations, and we can say, ‘Hey, when they do this, this is how we respond,’ or if they’re running a zone [defense] and recognize what they’re even playing, so it’s just good to see it.”

STAT BOOK

Smith added seven rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks to his team-high 20 points. Jaxson Provost had a double-double with 16 points, 10 dimes, six steals and two rebounds. Nolan Czako had 18 points and five rebounds. Cam Link was also in double figures with 12 points, five rebounds and two steals.

Zach McGuirt led the Crusaders with 21 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals. Tyler Bowen had six points on a pair of 3-pointers.

UP NEXT

Both teams begin conference action Tuesday. The Irish host Timothy Christian in their Metro Suburban Conference opener at 7:30 p.m., and the Crusaders visit Illinois Lutheran at 7 p.m. in RVC play.

Mason Schweizer is an award-winning reporter who has been with the Daily Journal since 2017 and sports editor since 2019. Save for time at the University of Illinois and Wayne State College, Mason is a lifelong area resident.