Chimae Ugbaja of Archbishop Riordan moves the ball up the court against University in the third quarter of a game on Dec. 15, 2018, at Archbishop Riordan High School. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

Riordan overcomes early sluggishness behind 3-point shooting of Chimae Ugbaja

RIORDAN HIGH SCHOOL — Two days after a 32-point blowout of city stalwart Stuart Hall, Archbishop Riordan found itself in a first-half dogfight with a re-energized University boys’ basketball team on Saturday afternoon.

After two games without center Max Fried, the Red Devils had taken advantage of an out-of-rhythm, sluggish Crusaders team, thanks in part to eight early points from Fried. Then, Riordan head coach Joe Curtin laid into his team at halftime.

“We just weren’t playing our game,” Curtin said. “We were playing lackadaisical and we weren’t really into it. I don’t know what was going on, but I let them know that at halftime. I said, ‘You’d better come out with the fire, or I’m going to come with some fire.'”

The Crusaders found their rhythm, shooting 53.3 percent after the break, and outscored University by nine points in the final two quarters. A pair of early-third-quarter 3-pointers from senior guard Chimae Ugbaja turned around Riordan’s fortunes, allowing the Crusaders to pull away for a resounding 67-52 win.

After going on a mini 8-0 run with two minutes left in the first half to widen a 20-19 lead, Riordan was still shooting just 41.4 percent when it headed into the locker room for Curtin’s halftime dress down.

“The overall effort level, the pushing of the pace, we really wanted that in the second half,” Curtin said. “That was the game plan from the get-go, but we really weren’t ready to go for some reason. That’s on me, maybe, but they showed what they could do in the second half.”

When they came out of the locker room, leading by nine, a three from the left corner by Ugbaja got the bench riled up. Then, Fried hit an and-one, then a lay-up off an in-bound, keeping the Red Devils within striking distance. A transition basket by Riiny Riiny with 3:31 left in the period forced University to take time out.

The Red Devils broke the persistent Riordan press to score a transition bucket by Charlie Kennedy, but another three by Ugbaja kept the momentum on the home bench.

“What’s good about him is that when it comes in the flow, you saw, the ball just found him,” Curtin said of Ugbaja, who went 6-of-12 from the field. “He was ready to shoot. The ball was starting to move, just like how we wanted it to. It was attack, move, quick pace, get a spot-up. He was the beneficiary of it. He was ready to shoot, and knocked down some shots, which was huge for us. it said, ‘This is how we’re supposed to play, and if we play like that, we’ll be fine.'”

The Crusaders pulled even further away in the fourth, outscoring University 22-16.

The Red Devils tried their press, to no avail. Ugbaja and Clark broke through early, matriculating the ball up the court where Dante Henderson hit a floater and drew a foul, hitting the and-one to put Riordan on top, 50-38 with 6:04 left.

Henderson, Dominic Wilson and Justice Turner provided a late spark, with the three combining for 16 points, five assists and 10 rebounds after halftime, with Turner alone accounting for five of his game-high eight rebounds.

“They always bring it,” Curtin said. “If I ever feel like it’s one of those games where it’s not really working, guys aren’t getting after it enough, I know who to go to.”

Ugbaja finished with 16 points, going 3-of-5 from beyond the arc while the rest of the Crusaders went just 1-for-13 from 3-point land.

Je’Lani Clark added 17 points and three rebounds, effectively countering Fried’s game-high 19 points and eight boards in 32 minutes.

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