Playing in the Catholic League is everything Khalil Ross thought it would be.
When he transferred last season from Lincoln-Way East to Brother Rice, Ross wanted to ratchet up the intensity of his game, and the Catholic League is providing that.
“Bigger games, bigger crowds, bigger environment,” Ross said of what he likes about playing in the CCL for the Crusaders. “There is more competition, to be honest.
“Every game is a battle, no matter where you are at and who you are playing.”
That was evident Tuesday night in Chicago. Ross scored 13 points and added a pair of blocked shots as host Brother Rice rallied for a 55-44 win in a Catholic League crossover.
Sophomore-heavy St. Laurence (15-9, 3-5) led by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter before Ross, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, and the Crusaders (21-3, 7-2) roared back.
Niagra recruit Ahmad Henderson actually led Brother Rice with 14 points, including 12 in the fourth. Ten of those points came after he was whistled for his fourth foul.
Ross took just one 3-pointer in the game and it was a big one with 38 seconds left in the first half, forcing a 25-25 tie. He also had a monster slam dunk with 3:45 left in the game.
That pulled the Crusaders within 40-38. They outscored the Vikings 17-4 the rest of the way.
Which did he like best?
“The slam,” Ross said. “The crowd was behind me and it felt good to get that dunk. I knew Pete (McShane) was going to give me the ball and I had to put it down.”
But the 3-pointer also was big as the Crusaders avoided going into halftime with a deficit.
“What it did was mentally it kept us as if it were 0-0 at halftime,” Brother Rice coach Conte Stamas said. “We didn’t play well both on the defensive end or offensive end.
“I hate to admit this, but they played harder than we did in the first half.”
Junior guard Cale Cosme, who began the game with a 3-pointer, converted another with 1:39 left in the fourth to put the Crusaders ahead for good at 47-44.
“They doubled Ahmad and he was able to find me,” Cosme said. “I was open and I hit it. The rest of the game was defensive stops and free throws.”
St. Laurence started five sophomores, many who played as freshmen on the varsity last season. Entering the game, four of the Vikings’ losses were by seven or fewer points.
While this was a double-digit loss, they did have a lead with 2:36 remaining
The Crusaders were coming off an eight-day stretch where they also beat Marist 49-48, lost to Loyola 50-47 and defeated Rolling Meadows 64-59.
“We’ve had some ups and downs, but we stayed together,” Cosme said.
“It’s been a long stretch, but it also feels like it flew by,” Ross said. “We had a lot of tough games, but we have tough games every week.”
Ross is getting looks from Division I schools IUPUI and Texas A&M-Commerce and NCAA Division II Illinois-Springfield.
He wants to continue playing the sport because he loves everything about it.
“I love playing defense, I love playing offense and I love rebounding,” Ross said. “I like that I can bring everything to the table.
“I can block shots, play above the rim, hit some threes and find my teammates when I need to.”
Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.