ARCHBISHOP RIORDAN — Riordan’s hopes for a West Catholic Athletic League championship were officially snuffed out on Friday night as Mitty claimed the outright WCAL title, but the Crusaders put together one of their best defensive efforts of the season on Saturday for a 54-42 win over the Bellarmine Bells in an excellent tuneup for the postseason, which begins next week.
“They’re really good at making you play their game,” Riordan head coach Joey Curtin said. “That we withstood that and still came out on top is satisfying. It was one of our best defensive efforts of the year.”
The 42 points allowed by Riordan (16-7, 9-4 WCAL) is the third-lowest on the season, and the two lower totals were against a St. Francis team missing two starters and a 2-21 Lynbrook team. The Bells sent three different defenses at the Crusaders throughout the night, including some zone schemes that slowed the pace to a halt. That allowed Bellarmine (17-6, 8-5) to take a 35-33 lead in the third quarter, with a 3-pointer by league MVP candidate Kiran Kruse capping off an 18-5 run. Kruse scored nine of his 12 points in the third, but shot just 3-of-14 from the field on the night. In all, the Bells were held to 25.5 percent shooting.
Riordan quickly got out in transition to tie the game on a Je’Lani Clark fast-ddbreak layup, and a Donte Henderson and-1 put the Crusaders back on top for good.
“We got lulled to sleep,” Curtin said. “When we get rebounds, we need guys flying down the court, and even if they get set up in their defense, we need a quick swing and an attack.”
Henderson played one of his best games of the year, scoring 10 points on a night when Clark was held to 13 and Bryce Monroe scored just eight.
“I was just looking for any open opportunity to score,” Henderson said. “I was able to get their bigger guys to go up in the air on fakes.”
Clark had a steal and dunk to put the Crusaders back up by five, and Henderson had another and-1 on a perfect jump stop in the fourth to open up a 45-37 lead. Riordan would allow just five points in the final quarter, and it would have been just two if not for a 3-pointer by Bellarmine reserve Jackson Dupree after both teams had emptied their benches.
The Crusaders also allowed just three points in the second quarter on a night that was far more significant in terms of how they won than the ramifications of the game. Considering how much parity there is in the CCS Open Division this year, the difference in playoff seeding between second, third and fourth place in the WCAL will be negligible. What matters far more is that Riordan was able to win a game against a stellar defensive team that focused on slowing the pace down, and the Crusaders committed just eight turnovers in the process.
The exception would be the third quarter, where Bellarmine went on that key 18-5 run, fueled by Kruse and Quinn Denker.
“We just needed to get back to pushing the ball,” Clark said after his 13-point, 13-rebound performance. “Controlling the boards and playing better defense was key. They shot 12 free throws in the third and made almost all of them, so we had to stop them from getting to the line.”
For all their struggles from the field, the Bells were 15-of-18 on free throws, but they were able to do little offensively in the fourth, especially after two starters, Constantijn Cole and Cole Troedson, suffered ankle injuries.
Denker scored a game-high 15, while Justice Turner added nine for Riordan. The Crusaders shot just 6-of-14 at the linen, but made up for it with nine steals and outscored the Bells 28-14 in the paint.
St. Ignatius 55, St. Francis 38: The Wildcats officially secured a .500 league record and postseason berth with two games to go, allowing just 15 points in the first half. St. Francis (12-11, 4-9) got 25 points from Matteo Fontana, but the entire rest of the Lancer roster was held in check. Wrenn Robinson led St. Ignatius (11-12, 7-6) with 24 and Neal Begovich had 17.
Sacred Heart Cathedral 82, Valley Christian 71: The Fightin’ Irish scored 28 points in the third quarter to pull away, opening up a 66-46 lead after allowing 23 points in the first quarter, and going into halftime up just three after a basket by D.A. Lang, Valley Christian’s manager. Lang, twin brother of Warriors point guard D’Von, had suited up for Senior Night. D’Von scored 10 and Colin McCulloch had a game-high 22 for Valley Christian (10-13, 1-12), but the Irish snapped their five-game losing streak behind 21 points from Cedric Reed Jr. and 12 from Elijah Flowers. Oscar Cheng was key for Sacred Heart Cathedral (10-13, 3-10), scoring 15 against the biggest team in the WCAL. 6-foot-9 Valley center Jay Allen-Tovar had 21 points and 12 rebounds.