ARCHBISHOP RIORDAN — With 5.7 seconds left in a seesaw battle between Archbishop Riordan and Archbishop Mitty on Wednesday, senior Crusaders guard Chimae Ugbaja went for a steal against Monarchs sniper Michael Mitchell. As he poked at the ball, he was whistled for a foul, bringing both hands to his head as he realized he’d given Mitty a chance to win.
Up by just one point, the Monarchs in-bounded the ball, and junior wing Devan Sapp — 11-for-24 on the day with a game-high 25 points — curled out to the right. Senior forward Justice Turner closed out, and the shot came up short. Sapp tried to recover the ball at the top of the 3-point arc, but Ugbaja was there, poking the ball down the court as the clock expired, sealing a 59-58 win.
“It’s a tough win, it’s an ugly win, they made some big shots, they took the lead there at the end and didn’t stop playing,” said head coach Joey Curtin. “Then, it comes down to, ‘Let’s just make one or two plays so we can get out of here with a win.’ It’s all smiles when you come out with a win.”
After the win, which moved Riordan into first place all by itself in the West Catholic Athletic League, there were shouts and curses as the Crusaders headed to the locker room. After a chat with Curtin, though, those curses turned into shouts of glee. After winning its previous two games by 16 and 44 points, this was the kind of win Riordan needed headed into the second half of league play.
“We haven’t had a close win in a while,” Curtin said. “Against a really great team like Mitty, to get that close win, I think it helps us. It gets us re-focused, keeps us on our toes. We have to stay hungry. I think going into Bellarmine, I’m glad we got a win here.”
Riordan (12-4, 5-1 in WCAL) held Mitty (10-6, 4-2) to just 8-of-28 shooting in the first half, going on an 11-2 run to start the game and surviving several charges by the Monarchs, who got to within five by the end of the first quarter, and then again on a three by Sapp with 1:37 left before halftime. A Darnay McPherson bucket, a put-back by Dominic Wilson and a lay-up by De’Sean Johnson at the end of the half pushed the lead up to 32-21 as the teams headed into the locker room.
The lead ballooned to 14 two minutes into the third quarter, as Sapp missed wide on a three and couldn’t get the follow-up bucket, and Je’Lani Clark hit a baseline fadeaway to make it 37-23.
Sapp and Mitchell, though, kept coming. The pair combined to shoot 7-of-15 in the first half, and then 10-of-23 after the break. The Crusaders, though, did hold the two to 4-of-14 from 3-point land.
“Those two on the perimeter were our top two targets, and Marcus Greene, of course,” said Curtin. “Chimae was on him and did a good job on him. The other guys, they’re good players. They’re going to make plays. It’s a big game. They’re going to make plays.”
Ugbaja was responsible for one of Riordan’s three steals, but he played disciplined, athletic defense for much of the night against Mitchell and guard Greene, as the latter shot just 2-of-10 from the field for six points.
After a lay-up by Johnson on a feed from Clark (16 points, 4 assists, 6 rebounds), Sapp answered with a bucket of his own. A running jumper by Mitchell off one of 13 Riordan turnovers trimmed the lead to seven. After a Monarchs time out, Mitchell hit a long two from the top of the key to get to within five, but Turner nailed one of his five 3-pointers on the night to get the lead back to eight.
A silky-smooth right-elbow bucket by Sapp cut the lead to six with 2:30 to go in the third, but then a three from the right wing by McPherson and another at 1:42 by Turner made it 48-36.
Sapp hit back-to-back threes to open the fourth, and after a baseline jumper by Bryce Monroe (5 points, 6 rebounds and a game-high 7 assists), Mitchell hit a wide-open three from the left corner to trim the lead to one, and a corner three by Mason Ryan with 3:05 to go gave Mitty a 56-55 lead.
“They keep firing. They’re not going to stop,” Curtin said. “If you let up a little bit, give them a little space, they can get hot, and the next thing you know, they’re in the lead.”
The lead would change four more times — “We knew the game would be a roller coaster,” Turner said — before Ugbaja’s ill-advised foul.
“He had eliminated his dribble, he was stuck, there was nowhere for him to go, and I think we were about to get a steal,” Curtin said. “You know, I trust his instincts. He said he saw the ball right there, and you know what, I’m not going to tell him don’t make a play. I was OK with him taking that reach.”
The poke-away just before the buzzer sounded was Ugbaja trying to make right. He had a feeling Mitty would take a long two, so positioned himself far away from the rim for the long rebound.
“I really had to dig in, and I really had to come up with the stop,” Ugbaja said.
Turner, who scored 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting, used his length to try and limit Sapp as much as he could, and he kept Sapp to just 3-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc. He’s exactly who Curtin wanted on Sapp on the final possession.
“He in-bounded the ball, and honestly, I thought he was going to go right up, but my guy curled around, got a slightly-contested jumper,” Turner smiled. “I did get a hand in the face. It was just a good play drawn up by them.”
“That’s a credit to Sapp, because he made some tough shots,” Curtin said. “Those were the shots we wanted him to take. We know he’s a great shooter, so we were kind of hoping he would go outside of his comfort zone a little bit, and he did, and [Turner] stepped up.”
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