A Go With Goliath Strawberry Mansion's game effort not enough

Posted: December 23, 2002

When one of the best teams in the country challenged, Strawberry Mansion accepted.

Even though the Knights were trailing by 40 points and clearly outmatched by St. Vincent-St. Mary of Akron, Ohio, they gave an animated crowd at the Palestra the show it was waiting for in the fourth quarter.

Strawberry Mansion was buried by the Irish, 85-47, in the fourth annual Scholastic Play-by-Play Network Classic, but the Knights (7-2) still made the Irish (6-0) and their superstar player, LeBron James, work a little bit.

James and Mansion's Maureece Rice pleased the sellout audience of 8,722, which included the 76ers' Allen Iverson and the Eagles' N.D. Kalu, when they went one-on-one in the final quarter.

After struggling to find his shot in the first three periods, Rice scored 10 of Mansion's 22 points in the fourth.

By then, the outcome was hardly in doubt, but Rice got the best of James a few times, which is something most high school players cannot say after facing James, the boy wonder who is likely to be chosen No. 1 in June's NBA draft.

"A couple of my shots didn't fall," Rice said of his slow start. "I had to calm down and find my game."

Rice shot 0 for 7 in the first half before going 5 for 10 in the second half. Rice, who is on pace to break Wilt Chamberlain's city career scoring record this season, finished with a team-high 13 points and two steals.

James was as good as advertised, collecting 26 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

After three quarters in which St. Vincent-St. Mary ran away from Strawberry Mansion with its stifling press and its quickness, the crowd erupted in cheers and encouraged James and Rice to go at each other. The two combined for 18 of the 42 points scored in the fourth period.

James, who is 6-foot-8, smiled as he buried two three-pointers over Rice, who is listed at 6-1 but looks to be more like 5-10.

Rice took the challenge and responded. He scored on a turnaround jumper over James and also nailed a three-pointer.

"The opportunities I did get [to go against James], I tried to go at him and get something out of it," Rice said.

James was impressed.

"Maureece Rice is a great player," James said. "He's one of the greatest guards I ever faced."

Although the last five minutes were entertaining, it was the previous 27 that made the difference.

Heading into the game, Strawberry Mansion knew that its step could not stutter, its passes could not misfire, and its intensity could not wilt - even for a second. St. Vincent-St. Mary is that good.

Against the Irish's seemingly unbreakable press, the Knights struggled. They committed 16 turnovers in the first half and 23 overall.

James finished with seven steals, and he was as difficult to keep up with in transition as he was to find a way around inside.

The Knights shot just 4 for 16 from the field in the first half and 16 for 45 for the game.

Rice did not score a basket until he made a three-pointer with 50 seconds left in the third quarter. That made the score 60-25.

The teams proved that neither is a one-man show.

Delton Morgan-Hines was named Mansion's MVP for the game after finishing with 11 points and five rebounds while facing with the daunting challenge of often guarding James.

For the Irish, Corey Jones scored 12 points, going 2 for 4 on his three-point attempts.

Like most high school teams, Strawberry Mansion had not been part of a scene like this. For St. Vincent-St. Mary, because of James, every game is an event, so even the presence of Iverson did not faze him.

"I wasn't in awe," James said, noting that the Los Angeles Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Darius Miles had attended his games. "I'm glad he did come."

Even with Iverson in the building, James stole the show.

Contact staff writer Shannon Ryan at 610-313-8097 or sryan@phillynews.com.

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