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Decatur defenders Rishard Tapscott, Rico Pickett (11) and Rolando McClain (21) keep the pressure on John Carroll's Andrew Steele during the Cavaliers' 45-43 win in the Class 5A semifinals in Birmingham on Friday.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Decatur defenders Rishard Tapscott, Rico Pickett (11) and Rolando McClain (21) keep the pressure on John Carroll's Andrew Steele during the Cavaliers' 45-43 win in the Class 5A semifinals in Birmingham on Friday.

Red Raiders slow Steele but can't secure win
John Carroll star scores 15 and grabs 8 rebounds in semifinal victory

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

BIRMINGHAM — If you had told Jamie Lee prior to Friday that Decatur would hold John Carroll Catholic guard Andrew Steele to 11 points in their Class 5A semifinal, Lee would tell you that he'd probably be planning for a championship game right now.

And yet, with that scenario playing out, the Red Raiders still lost, falling 45-43 to the Cavaliers in a classic at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on Friday morning.

"I thought we had a good shot," a dejected Lee said minutes after Decatur's season abruptly ended at 27-6, one game short of a title matchup.

"If he had had 11, I would thought we had a real good shot."

Steele, the younger brother of Alabama's preseason All-American guard Ronald Steele, runs the Cavaliers (31-5). Other players score points, but with Steele on the floor, they're a much more formidable opponent.

That comes from being around head coach Marty Smith for more than half a decade.

But when Steele got in foul trouble in the first half — he picked up two fouls within a 11/2 minutes late in the first quarter — John Carroll had to go to plan B.

"I looked at my coaches and said, 'We've got to survive,' " Smith said. "Andrew isn't our basketball team, but he knows what I want night in, night out."

Decatur couldn't take advantage as John Carroll's DeMarcus Covington stepped up in place of Steele, finishing with 15 points and eight rebounds.

"We felt like they got so much what they did off Steele," Lee said. "He was the main guy. Didn't feel like the other guys could handle the ball as well. To their credit, they did."

When Steele was in the game, Lee rotated Rishard Tapscott, Rico Pickett and G Redus on him in man-to-man defense.

"We tried to no-catch him," Lee said. "Tried to keep him off the ball. Tried to keep guys fresh."

It worked. Well, sort of.

Steele finished with no points, two fouls and seven minutes in the first half.

"They're a great defensive team," Steele said. "They just did a great job being physical. Once I got it, they still played great defense."

But in the end, little brother played the part of team leader much like big brother does.

Just like Alabama is better when Ronald is on the floor, John Carroll is a much tougher team to play when Andrew is playing.

"With him on the court, we're a totally different basketball team," Smith said. "He doesn't have to score for us to win, but he has to be on the court for us to be successful."

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