SUNNYVALE — The Riordan Crusaders opened the Central Coast Section Open Division quarterfinals on Friday night with one of their worst defensive quarters of the year, but they quickly erased that with a 19-1 run and rolled to a 69-53 win over the St. Francis Lancers.
Even with Je’Lani Clark struggling to shoot and Justice Turner unable cash in on open looks in the first half, Riordan (18-7) took a 36-26 lead into the break, ensuring no repeat of a stunning Jan. 23 loss at St. Francis.
“They weren’t bad looks,” head coach Joey Curtin said. “They just weren’t dropping, so we were okay with that. We rushed some shots in the first few minutes, but after that we got better looks.”
Though the 7-for-27 showing on 3-pointers and overall 46.3 shooting percentage for the game might not show it, the Crusaders pieced together one of their more refined offensive efforts after struggling in the opening minutes.
“We’re just making sure everyone gets involved,” junior Crusaders guard Bryce Monroe said. “We’ve really learned how to play together as a team, and our spacing is getting better.”
Monroe scored 10 of his 18 in the first half, and along with a strong start from Chimae Ugbaja, who scored seven of his 12 before the break, there was little reason for the Crusaders to worry, even with Turner and Clark combining to go 4-for-14 from the field in the opening half.
St. Francis (13-12) scored the game’s first seven points and held a 25-17 advantage as Ryan Daly got to the hoop on an uncontested drive early in the second quarter, but it would be the lone Lancer field goal of the quarter. Three-pointers by Clark and Turner cut the lead to two, Ugbaja tied it with 4:17 left in the half on a pair of free throws and put his team in front with a put-back after a Dominic Wilson steal.
“We decided to go small and it worked out for us,” head coach Joey Curtin said. “I thought we needed more quickness out there.”
Starting center De’Sean Johnson saw just two minutes on the floor at neutral-site Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, with his time being divided up amongst a mix of players, including sophomore Darnay McPherson and Donte Henderson. Henderson had eight points, all coming in the second half, and played 16 minutes.
“It was just a matchup thing,” Curtin said.
Even with the 6-foot-4 Daly and 6-foot-1 Matteo Fontana — who plays well above his height — the smaller lineup favored the Crusaders.
“I had to lock up the big man,” Henderson said. “I just needed to stop fouling and keep my hands up.”
The Lancers would never get closer than eight in the second half, which they did on a Maurice Wilmer put-back with just over five minutes left in the third. Another Ugbaja three made it 43-32, and Monroe’s and-1 would put the second-seeded Crusaders up by 14, their largest lead to that point. It would be a 49-34 advantage after a Turner three, and the lead would be as much as 18 in the fourth quarter after a Turner and-1 and a Henderson put-back to make it 65-47.
Turner finished with 15 and Clark scored 10, though the junior guard turned his ankle on a blocked shot late in the game.
“I landed on my own foot. I’ll be fine,” he said. “I’ll be out there Wednesday for sure.”
Daly, who transferred to St. Francis from Sacred Heart Cathedral, led the Lancers with 15, while Oscar Pedraza and Roy Yuan each added 10. Riordan was out-rebounded 37-23, but the Crusaders compensated for that by winning the turnover battle 18-7. The Lancers made just 13 of 24 free throws.
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