From his first conversion of the game, a jumper off the dribble that swished right through for Joliet Catholic Academy’s lone lead, junior guard James Ragen was a regular shooting machine.
The 5-foot-11 Ragen, an Orland Park native and product of Noonan Academy, shot 6-of-10 from the floor and 4-of-8 on 3-pointers — his back-to-back threes keeping the Hillmen close in the third quarter.
Timing is everything.
“Finally, we got him to shoot,” JCA coach Joe Gura said. “Finally, we got him to shoot. That’s what he has to do. And then everybody found out with Ragen shooting, other guys get shots. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
Amazingly, the Hilltoppers’ boys basketball team again had a shot last week against another heralded nonconference opponent. JCA trailed just 15-11 after one quarter and 29-23 at halftime, with Ragen’s pair of triples putting the deficit at 32-26 and 41-31, the latter with 1:49 left in the third quarter.
While Providence (12-7) prevailed 53-38 on the strength of 15 points and 12 rebounds from senior center Mike Marietti — who also hails from Noonan — JCA (5-15) received Ragen’s game-high 16 points.
Rock-steady junior forward Ryan Peter added 8 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists and junior guard Keith Craig contributed 5 points and 5 assists for the Hilltoppers, who saw three new players enter the starting lineup. Junior center/forward Adam Janusz-Lancaster led that group with 6 points and 6 rebounds.
“Our effort was there,” Ragen said. “We know, playing against Providence, it’s a huge rivalry. I know a lot of kids on that team, I play AAU with some of them and they’re my friends, so I was excited and pumped up. And right when I stepped onto the floor, I could feel I was going to try and hit my shots.”
“I was really pleased with how we played,” Gura said. “Providence presents the worst-case scenario for us. Their big man and point guard make plays and their wings are legitimate. That’s a very good basketball team, but we played hard and I was pleased with how we played on both ends of the floor.”
With Ragen and Peter scoring 8 points apiece, JCA prevented the Student Activity Center floor from tilting in Providence’s direction in the first half. Ragen’s pair of 3-pointers and Peter’s baseline drive inched the Hilltoppers within 15-13 only 36 seconds into the second quarter. Peter’s three made it 25-20.
The third quarter belonged to Ragen, whose pullup jumper in-between 3-pointers sliced the deficit to 34-28 at 5:36 left. Craig’s layup off a steal and Janusz-Lancaster’s jumper got JCA to 44-35 in the fourth.
“I was pleased with how we played on offense, pleased with how we played on defense,” Gura said. “When the kids understand ‘Petey’ and Ragen are our No. 1 and No. 2 options, we start coming along.”
“I felt good shooting the ball,” Ragen confirmed. “I was going to try to get my teammates their shots, and if they weren’t hitting, I was definitely going to try hard and try to help us win. The effort’s there.”
NOTES: Whoosh, there it is. JCA shot 50 percent (9-of-18) from the floor and 57.1 percent (4-of-7) from 3-point range in the first half. Providence shot 45.8 (11-of-24) and 37.5 (3-of-8), respectively … The Celtics finished at 42.9 (21-of-49) from the floor and 29.4 (5-of-17) on threes. JCA hit 41.7 (15-of-36) from the floor and 40.0 (6-of-15) on threes … Marietti combined 9 points with 6 rebounds in the second half … Janusz-Lancaster added 2 assists and 2 steals … Junior guard/forward Ira Hughes closed JCA’s scoring in the fourth with a conventional 3-point play on a layup and a free throw … Ragen, Craig, Hughes and junior forward Anthony Salata each totaled 3 rebounds … Junior guard Kevin Kozan notched 8 points and 5 assists and senior forward/guard Brian Oddo had 5 points and 5 assists for Providence.