A young Nichols squad proved to be no match for a relentless Salesian team from New Rochelle in the Class B state Catholic final at Villa Maria on Sunday afternoon.
Marcellus Cooper’s 20 points and Will Johnson’s 18 – all on three-pointers – weren’t enough for the Vikings (10-18) in the 71-54 loss, as Salesian dictated the style of play at both ends of the court for the majority of the game.
“We knew we had to keep them in the high 50s to have a chance, and it kind of makes sense when you look at the score,” Nichols coach John Reinholz said. “That team was better than us. They were more experienced. They were more savvy. But our kids didn’t come out here and hand them anything. They just came out and played as hard as they could.”
Four players scoring between 14-19 points led a balanced attack for the Eagles, who also deployed an aggressive zone defense that limited Cooper to just three points in the first half.
“I think that the situation with Marcellus is simple,” Reinholz said of his 6-foot-3 forward who had eight rebounds. “He’s a sophomore who we asked to do so much all season. We put a lot of pressure on him and challenged him all season, and he responded over and over.
“So I think part of it is when you’re that young and you have that much responsibility on your shoulders, I think you can get mentally and physically fatigued.”
Johnson opened the scoring 35 seconds in with a three-pointer and drained another two from beyond the arc to help the Vikings get out to a 16-14 lead after the first eight minutes. Johnson, a junior, also recorded five rebounds and five assists.
Nichols went cold in the second quarter after scoring three of the first five points. Salesian went on an 18-2 run the last 6:30 of the half to take a 34-21 lead.
After being held scoreless in the second quarter, Johnson hit his fourth three of the game 1:38 into the second half, which got the Vikings to within 10, 36-26. Nichols stayed with the Eagles for the most part the rest of the quarter, which was highlighted by an alley-oop finish by Cooper. He also scored at the buzzer to bring Nichols’ deficit to 52-39 after three.
Cooper’s momentum carried over into the fourth, where he converted on a three-point play and had three three-pointers. It helped the Vikings pull within 10 again, 61-51, after a Maxwell Hall free throw with 3:07 to go. Nichols resorted to the hack-a-Shaq strategy for about the next two minutes but weren’t able to come any closer.
Jon Nagy led Salesian (15-12) with 19 points while Xavier Tellez had 17, Jorge Perdomo had 16 and Alex Romans scored 14.