The City College of San Francisco men’s basketball team won its postseason opener against Cosumnes River College 92-71, but despite that comfortable margin, played lackluster at times on both offense and defense, especially during the first half.
“I don’t think we played well during the first half,” head coach Justin Labagh said. “We had a very hard guarding them, the guys coming into the game weren’t ready to play. It was disappointing.”
The Rams looked tepid for most of the first half but got a big performance out of sophomore wing and Coast Conference North MVP Malcolm Johnson. Johnson, who led his team in scoring with 18 points, seemed to be the only City College player effective at both ends of the court to start the game.
Johnson got his first bucket just minutes into the game when he grabbed an offensive rebound and then fought his way through contact to score in the paint. Seconds later, with Cosumnes River on offense, Johnson leaped up and rejected a shot. Johnson hustled all night, got tip-in baskets on offense, and on defense, forced steals that turned into fast break baskets.
“I take it upon myself to uplift the team and keep everyone going. Even when everyone else isn’t doing good, I try to go out there and play my hardest,” Johnson said. “The steals and blocks get my team going. We thrive off of those things.”
Besides Johnson, the Ram’s starters did not have a good first half. Their two star players, sophomores Austin McCullough and Deschon Winston, only scored a combined 13 points during the first half, so the Rams had to find offense elsewhere. Sophomore guard Dale Currie was able to help in providing that by scoring eight of his 12 points in the first half, including making two big three pointers with defenders right in his face.
The Cosumnes River offense caused fits for City College. Point guard Marcus Robinson was able to drive to the basket at will, and excelled at drive-and-kicks for open threes. The Rams struggled to defend pick and rolls and did a bad job of communicating to each other for help.
“We couldn’t guard them. It was bad dribble driving penetration,” Labagh said. “We couldn’t keep them in front of us, they were really fast. There wasn’t any help defense during the first half.”
City College finally started to get something going on offense towards the end of the half. The two stars off the bench, freshman forward Jason Ricketts and Currie, hit back-to-back threes in the closing seconds to give the Rams a 45-40 lead at halftime.
The second half would go more smoothly for City College. Johnson started the half with steal that ended in a fast break basket and set the tempo for the Rams. Winston would hit a three on the next possession while McCullough would hit one of his own after that. Winston finished the game with 14 points while McCullough scored 12.
“We hit some shots and we got cleans looks,” Labagh said. “It took other guys to screen, and get an assist screen to get guys open. We were having to work pretty hard for our outside shooting during the first half.”
Ricketts led the Rams in scoring during the second half, scoring 12 of his 17 points after the half, and his play off the bench was crucial for his team. He hit two of his three 3-pointers during the half and besides his outside shooting Ricketts was also able to get some hard baskets in the paint despite facing heavy contact.
“I was just trying to bring energy on offense and defense, that is what I do,” Ricketts said. “It is our job when the starters are lacking to bring energy and get things back together.”
By the midpoint of the half the Rams were up 74-51 and while that lead decreased before the end of the game, City College controlled the entire second half. Johnson put an exclamation point on the Rams’ win with a massive two-handed dunk on a fast break that was preceded by a full court pass from sophomore Alec Check, which landed perfectly in Johnson’s hands.
With the win, City College advances in the CCCAA men’s basketball playoffs and will face off against Cañada College on Sat. March 9 at home at 7:30 p.m. It will be the third time this season they face Canada. The previous two games were wins for City College by the scores of 82-69 and 90-72. City College is the No. 1 seed while Cañada is ranked No. 9.