SAN JOSE — A 22-point third quarter, fueled by two stars switching their usual roles, lifted the Riordan Crusaders in a 63-52 road win over the Bellarmine Bells on Saturday to secure outright possession of first place in the West Catholic Athletic League halfway through league play.
Locked in a 27-27 tie at halftime, Riordan (13-4, 6-1 WCAL) put Je’Lani Clark — usually a slasher and point guard — in an outside shooting role, and let his cousin Bryce Monroe slash to the hoop. The gambit worked, as the Crusaders handed the Bells their first home loss since March 15, 2016. Bellarmine had won 24 consecutive home games, including 16 in WCAL play, entering Saturday night.
“They tried to commit two people to me, so in the second half I was just finding my shooters,” Monroe said. “Lani got hot.”
Clark has been a certainty to reach double-figures almost every night, but his 8-for-11 performance from the field, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range, put him into a new realm and showed why he made first-team all-WCAL as a sophomore, as well as why he’s one of the top guards in the Bay Area. His performance against the Bells gave him over 1,000 points for his career, putting him in 11th place all-time at Riordan.
Ian Elam got the first bucket of the third quarter to put Bellarmine (13-4, 4-3) on top, but the Crusaders would score the next six points and never trail again. Justice Turner’s steal and layup tied it back up, and Clark made the first of two free throws before a dual lane violation wiped out the second attempt. The possession arrow pointed to the visitors, and instead of a made free throw from Clark, he ended up sinking a 3-pointer.
Clark ended up scoring 12 of his game-high 22 in the quarter, with a phenomenal and-1 that went in as he fell to the floor a la Stephen Curry making it 38-34 after the Bells had gotten within one on a Kiran Kruse 3-pointer.
A three from Bellarmine point guard Quinn Denker cut it to 40-39, but Monroe and Clark would combine for a 9-2 run to close the quarter, capped off by Clark’s second and-1 of the period off a Bells turnover with 4.7 seconds left.
The lead would widen to as much as 14 in the fourth quarter, with a Clark 3-pointer and Donte Henderson lay-in making it 54-43 with 6:49 left. Monroe would score the last seven of his 19 over the remainder of the game to ensure the lead would never get smaller than 10.
Though Monroe shot just 5-of-16 from the field and 2-for-9 in the first half, the adjustments Riordan made in the second half — and his 9-of-11 showing at the line — allowed him and Clark to take over after a tight first half.
“This was a game we needed in the 50s and 60s, and they wanted it in the 80s,” said Bellarmine head coach Patrick Schneider. “They had an 88-point third quarter. 22 points in a quarter, that’s 88 in a game.”
The Bells largely controlled the first half by catching Riordan off-guard with zone defense. Kruse was red-hot early on, with Bellarmine’s first eight and 10 of his 19 in the first quarter, while Denker sank a pair of early threes as the teams were tied 13-13 after a quarter, with Bellarmine going on an 8-2 run late in the period.
An 8-0 run to start the second, started by three of Denker’s 16 points and finished with strong post moves by Constantijn Cole, had the Bells ahead by eight before Clark, Monroe and Turner engineered a 14-2 run to take the lead. The hosts got the last four points of the half from Kruse and sophomore Ryan Kiachian to go into the half tied.
“The pace wasn’t fast enough for our liking,” said Riordan head coach Joey Curtin. “We needed to push it. We got a lot of guys open with hard cuts because all of the focus was on the ball.”
With the win, the Crusaders maintain sole possession of first place in one of the Bay Area’s top leagues, with Mitty a game behind and Bellarmine, Serra and St. Ignatius all sitting two games back at 4-3.
Mitty 55, Serra 53: The Padres became the latest team to fall victim to Marcus Greene’s clutch shooting, as Mitty (11-6, 5-2) got the winning 3-pointer from Greene with 32 seconds left after the Padres had led for the entire fourth quarter and held the lead at the end of each of the first three, including a 26-22 advantage at halftime.
Serra (12-5, 4-3) got a game-high 16 points from Parker McDonald, while the Monarchs got 12 from sophomore Michael Mitchell, 11 from Devan Sapp and 10 from Greene. Cade Rees was slowed by illnesses and was held to eight points, and the 6-foot-7 Serra senior also saw his streak of consecutive made free throws come to an end at 24.
St. Francis 45, St. Ignatius 42: Offensive difficulties plagued the Wildcats all night, and St. Francis (10-7, 2-5) won its second straight behind Matteo Fontana’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:02 left. St. Ignatius (8-9, 4-3) got 14 points from Wrenn Robinson and 12 from Kourosh Kahn-Adle, while the Lancers got 10 from Sebastian Pelayo and nine apiece from Oscar Pedraza and Maurice Wilmer. Pedraza and Wilmer each missed the first four league games with injuries, and the Lancers are 2-1 since their return.
Sacred Heart Cathedral 60, Valley Christian 59: Despite letting Valley Christian (10-7, 1-6) go on a 14-3 run to take the lead with 4:25 left, Sacred Heart Cathedral (9-8, 2-5) snapped a four-game losing streak by scoring seven of the game’s final 10 points.
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