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St. Rita is loaded with future college basketball players. The Mustangs feature the top three juniors in the state and all three have committed to college already. Morez Johnson (Illinois), James Brown (North Carolina) and Nojus Indrusaitis (Iowa State) had high-level recruitments, with the best college programs in the country courting them for years.
St. Rita sophomore Melvin Bell is in the same boat, widely considered one of the top three players in his class.
Over on the other side of the court on Tuesday at Mount Carmel was DeAndre Craig. The Caravan senior has been one of the area’s best guards for four years, but his recruitment never took off. Craig signed with Denver in November.
“[Denver] got the biggest steal in the country,” Mount Carmel coach Phil Segroves said. “From day one I thought he was a Big Ten guard. I thought he could play at Loyola, and he was overlooked there. I think he can play at DePaul and he was overlooked there.
“DeAndre is fine with that. He’s really excited about Denver, and they’ve got a great one coming.”
Craig was the dominant force on the floor against St. Rita, scoring 33 points to lead the Caravan to a 84-76 win.
Craig relentlessly attacked the rim, going straight into the Mustangs’ stout post defense of Johnson (6-9) and Brown (6-10). The 6-1 Craig absorbed the contact and scored, time after time.
He was 9-for-13 shooting and also contributed four steals, three assists and five rebounds.
“They have Power Five players on their team and that always gives you a little boost,” Craig said. “But I just went out there and played like it was a Tuesday night against any other Catholic League team.”
It wasn’t. Fans packed Mount Carmel’s gym. There were large student sections from both schools and the game was on live television.
“That was the biggest crowd I’ve seen here for sure” Caravan senior Anthony Ciaravino said. “It was insane, just crazy. I can’t put it to words what it was like coming out to that crowd. You could feel the energy. It was really great to play in.”
Ciaravino scored 13 points and his brother, junior Angelo Ciaravino, added 14 points. Lee Marks scored 14 and grabbed four rebounds for Mount Carmel.
“Our team chemistry is getting better and today we showed we can compete with the best,” Anthony Ciaravino said.
Mount Carmel (20-2, 8-0 Catholic League Blue) led by eight at halftime and St. Rita (13-9, 6-1) never mounted a significant threat in the second half. A three-pointer from Bell with 3:42 left pulled the Mustangs within five points but that was as close as it would get.
Johnson continued to show why he may be the best prospect in the state, regardless of class. He had 27 points and 12 rebounds. But his size and strength and shot blocking ability in the post also made Craig’s attacks at the basket even more impressive.
Indrusaitis finished with 16 points and Brown added 10 points and eight rebounds for St. Rita. Bell scored 16.
The Mustangs opened the season nationally ranked and have played a rugged schedule against teams from all over the country. But St. Rita’s results against local teams have not lived up to the preseason hype yet. The Mustangs have lost to Joliet West, Simeon, Young and now Mount Carmel. They beat Brother Rice in December. The only game St. Rita has left against a Super 25 team is Feb. 10 against No. 25 Loyola.
“It’s very frustrating, but we are not down,” St. Rita coach Roshawn Russell said. “I will be honest, we are a little aggravated. If you just look at our schedule, game for game, there is nobody that has a schedule like us. That being said, we definitely have to start pulling out games like this. We’re as good as anybody in the state and we will finish strong in the playoffs.”
Watch the final minute of St. Rita at Mount Carmel: