NEWARK — Slamming his hand on the scorers table, Archbishop Riordan head coach Joe Curtin startled his players on the bench and spectators viewing from the stands as the slap of the padded surface echoed throughout the Newark Memorial High School gymnasium.
Curtin’s moment of rage was the product of a frustrating afternoon for his Crusaders. After trailing for the majority of the afternoon, Riordan had climbed back from a 15-point deficit only to see their hard work spoiled by an untimely foul and a clock malfunction in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t really have a rhythm today,” Curtin said. “It was very frustrating but we had a chance to win down the stretch.”
For Riordon, the frustrations of the afternoon began early in the first half. Taking on the Dublin Gaels, who entered the game ranked as the No. 23 high school basketball club in California according to Cal High Sports, the Crusaders gave up 42 points in the first 16 minutes of play, and fell 73-69 in the NorCal Tip-Off Classic.
By far the most troubling part of Riordan’s lackluster defense was the fact that the Crusaders gave up 19 points to Dublin guard Elijah Alonso, who didn’t miss a single shot in the first half. Going a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor, Alonso railed all five of his three-pointers — all on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
“The scouting report on Alonso was ‘catch and shoot,’” Curtin said. “Those were the first words behind his name. He was the first guy on our list — he’s number one.”
Along with the description on the scouting report, Crusaders guard Je’Lani Clark said he knew what Alonso was capable of, due to playing together in AAU.
Heading into halftime, Riordan had dug itself a 12-point hole, trailing 42-30 and shooting only 7-of-22 from the floor. They also gave up 10 turnovers in the half.
To start the third quarter, the Crusaders looked to have adjusted to their first-half mistakes. Closing out on Alonso, they forced the junior guard to drive to the rim and take contested layups that clanked off of the iron.
Unfortunately, once they patched the Alonso leak, another sprung in the form of junior point guard Jaden Saunders. Using his speed and agility, Saunders pirouetted past defenders and kept them on his hip to create space and bank in layups.
With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Riordan instituted a full-court press that included traps on the baseline on inbounds and ultra aggressive on-ball defense, in order to find a way back into the game.
“It came down to desperation,” Reardon said. “The full-court press got us our energy back and then it got us some easy looks.”
By using the press in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the Crusaders slowly chipped aways at Dubin’s lead. Clark would lead the way scoring 13 of his eventual 31 points in that period.
Getting it down to single digits with less than two minutes to go, Riordan forced three turnovers that led to three made baskets, closing the gap to one point with less than 30 seconds to play
Once again employing the full-court pressure, the Crusaders was called for a reach in foul against Saunders with just 27 seconds remaining, sending him to the line for two free throws. After that, Riordan was called for a loose-ball foul sending Alonso to the line where he split the pair.
After Alonso’s free throw, Riordan in-bounded the ball with 10 seconds remaining as the Dublin defense was still being set.
Unfortunately for the Crusaders, the students running the scoreboard started the game clock before any players touched the ball, forcing Riordan to re-inbound and let Dublin get their players set.
“It stopped the game,” Curtin said. “We were already in transition and that’s how we were getting out buckets.”
Down by four, the Crusaders attempted to get off a game-tying three-pointer but the long-distance attempt did not convert.
“We let them get hot initially and that’s on us,” Clark said after the game. “Don’t get punched in the mouth first. That’s what we have to take away from this.’