The stage was set perfectly for the Riordan Crusaders to open 2020 with a bang and get their hunt for their first West Catholic Athletic League championship since 2007 started on the right note.
With fresh new uniforms and a big home crowd brought to life after erasing a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter, sophomore Mor Seck threw down an alley-oop to give his team the lead for the first time since the opening quarter.
Such celebrations were short-lived, as Seck was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim – which he did, albeit for only a split second – and the Crusaders mustered just two more points over the remaining 2:55 as they lost to the Serra Padres, 50-48.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump this time,” said Bryce Monroe, who scored a game-high 17 points but shot just 6 of 19 and missed a pair of go-ahead shots in the final minutes. “We didn’t stick together this time, and that’s on me. We didn’t stick together. We just got stagnant on offense and the double-team was keeping me out of the paint for most of the game.”
Monroe did try to get into the paint with the score tied at 48 but got called for a charge with 50.3 seconds left, and Serra (9-2, 1-0 WCAL) took the lead for good with 33.7 left when Dimitri Koutsogeorgas made one of two free throws. Another shot in the lane amidst double coverage with nine seconds left missed, and after a scramble for a loose ball, Ryan Wilson recovered it for the Padres and managed to get free in the front court before the hosts could finally foul with 2.1 seconds left. Julius Alcantara proceeded to make one of two free throws, and the best opportunity Riordan (9-2, 0-1) could get together was a 65-foot heave by Je’Lani Clark, one that fell a few feet short of the rim as the visiting Padres celebrated.
The shot at the buzzer was the lone 3-pointer Clark missed on the night, and he scored 16 points despite not even playing the first quarter (discipline). After the Padres opened up their largest lead at 38-27, he knocked one down from NBA range, then threw down a dunk in transition, but Serra answered on a three by sophomore Brady Smith. Monroe, who went just 1 of 7 from long distance, did make one to get the Crusaders within six to close the quarter, and they’d get the first five points of the fourth, with two coming on a Monroe-to-Seck alley-oop. Jevon Jesus’ lone basket of the night put Serra up 43-40, but the Crusaders tied it at 44 after Seck scored from the middle of the lane and Monroe finally solved the traffic in the lane, falling as his shot went through the hoop.
Another Serra miss would set up Seck’s dunk for the lead, but Antonio Abeyta made the two technical foul shots to knot the game back up and Wilson scored from the baseline to put the visitors ahead again.
“I think it didn’t deserve a technical,” head coach Joey Curtin said of the call. “It wasn’t egregious, he didn’t taunt or do anything like that.”
Even with that foul, the Crusaders had plenty of chances. They called timeout after a massive Alcantara block and tied the game out of that break when Clark scored off a Lee Hubbard inbound pass, but Serra would hold the hosts scoreless for the final two minutes and 24 seconds.
“I think they just played hard-nosed defense, and we didn’t get enough possessions to get in a rhythm,” Curtin said. “They got their hands on just about every 50-50 ball, and it won them the game.”
The lone 50-50 ball that the hosts did benefit from came when Monroe’s attempt on a deep 3-pointer with 1:04 left went out off Wilson, but Abeyta drew a charge to get the ball back to Serra with the score still tied.
The Padres had 15 offensive rebounds to Riordan’s six, with five by Alcantara, who had a game-high nine boards in all. He and Wilson each scored 11 while Koutsogeorgas finished with nine. Seck had nine points for the Crusaders but shot just 1 of 4 on free throws and was held to five rebounds.