City College guard Deschon Winston (20) guards Valverde Jalen (4) of Delta College on Dec. 1 in the San Francisco City College Tournament. (Eric Sun / Special to S.F. Examiner)

City College of San Francisco basketball cruises to 12-0 start with win over Northern Idaho

Playing their fourth game in four days on Saturday, the Rams once again leaned on one of their two former Pac-12 players, as former Cal guard Deschon Winston racked up a team-high 27 points against a formidable North Idaho team, pacing a 98-84 victory to move City College to 12-0 on the season.

“We just played four games in a row just now,” City College head coach Justin Labagh said. “And two of these teams, Santa Rosa and these guys, were really good, so I am happy the way we played. We fell apart a little at the end but we held on.”

The Rams came out of gate hot, sprinting out to a 33-16 lead midway through the first half. Winston was near-unguardable, scoring 25 points before halftime, including seven 3-pointers.

“I shot the ball well during the first half,” Winston said. “My teammates found me open when I was hot.”

Winston was able to create his own shot off the dribble, but also weaved his way through the Cardinal defense when the ball wasn’t in his hands, positioning himself for open kick-out 3-pointers, which he made with ruthless efficiency.

After the Rams built a 17-point lead, North Idaho was able to use its superior size and length to hamper the City College offense, and at one point got to within five points, down 40-35. By halftime, the Rams were able to widen its lead to a more comfortable 49-39.

After dominating the first half, Winston only scored two points during the second, and the Rams had to completely change up their offensive game plan after halftime. Winston, too, adjusted his game when he realized that he wasn’t going to be able to make the same shots he made during the first half.

“I knew they were going to play me tight so I set up some screens so other players could get open, because they were putting the extra defensive help on me,” Winston said. “That was the time for my other teammates to do what they can do, and it all worked out.”

Sophomore wing Malcolm Johnson, a transfer from Cal State Dominguez Hills, led the way for the Rams in the second half, scoring 14 points and finishing the game with 21. A high-energy player with nice length, Johnson can do a variety of things well. On Saturday, he blocked shots, dished off to teammates, hit 5-of-6 free throws, and even had some highlight real dunks.

“We have a lot of guys that can score,” Labagh said. “We are really interchangeable, maybe this team is more interchangeable top-to-bottom than any team that we have had, and they can shoot. We got the ball inside to compensate since we weren’t hitting threes in the second half.”

After the break, the Rams focused on getting the ball down low much more. Sophomore forward Austin Harris — who, along with guard Niamey Harris is one of two returning players from last year’s state championship team — played a gritty game in the paint, and finished the game with 12 points.

Niamey Harris, a broad, stocky player, was able to use his explosive athleticism to help contribute to the victory. He ended up scoring eight points, and had the play of the game when he jumped up and threw down a powerful dunk on a tip back early in the first half.

“He is like the engine room for us,” Labagh said. “He is our energy guy, he plays downhill and the kids feed off him because he plays so hard, and he is getting better. At first he was a football guy playing basketball but now he a legit basketball player.”

Throughout the the second half, the Rams kept a steady lead, usually hovering around ten points. At times the offense would slow down, and North Idaho would begin to creep closer to tying the game, only to be thwarted when the Rams would go on a quick run. With three minutes left, North Idaho got to within nine points.

“I thought we could of been smarter down the stretch,” Labagh said. “One guy got a technical foul, and we let up a couple offensive rebounds from the free throw line, so we will learn from this but this was a good team so we can take something out of this.”

The Rams have nearly a week off before they play Merced College in the San Joaquin Delta Tournament on Dec. 14, with games the following two days against to be determined opponents.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article misreported that the Rams were 10-0. They are in fact 12-0 with the win over North Idaho College.

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