ARCHBISHOP RIORDAN — On most nights, the Riordan Crusaders are able to dictate games with excellent guard play, slashing to the hoop and cycling the ball around the perimeter to get open 3-pointers.
On most nights, though, they also don’t have to deal with a hulking presence like DeShawn Lynch. Lynch, a 6-foot-5 junior who played on the defensive line for Folsom’s state championship football team, took over the second half of Tuesday’s CIF Division I first-round playoff game, totaling 12 points and 15 rebounds while drawing the lion’s share of the attention from Riordan’s defense. If Lynch wasn’t the one scoring, he was warranting so much focus that the rest of the Bulldogs were able to cut through the lane at will, which gave them the edge for a 68-64 win that ended the Crusaders’ season.
“Lynch is their focal point, and he’s just so big and agile,” Riordan head coach Joey Curtin said.
In the 11-2 third quarter run that gave the ninth-seeded Bulldogs the lead for good, Lynch had just one point, but he opened up the lane for four other scorers to get to the basket. It was a balanced attack for Folsom (26-6), with seven players scoring at least seven points on the night. Tiler Fears matched Lynch with 12 points off the bench, and he hit a huge 3-pointer from the top of the arc to put the visitors ahead 58-50 after the Crusaders had closed to five.
Riordan (18-9) finally heated up on 3-pointers down the stretch, going 5-for-8 in the second half after converting on just one of 12 attempts in the first two quarters, but those shots came in desperation after the eighth-seeded Crusaders fell behind. Bryce Monroe cut it to 46-42 on a pair of free throws with 6:18 left in the fourth, but a fourth-chance put-back by Lynch sparked a critical 6-0 run for Folsom. A Jalen Scott basket off of a turnover and another put-back by Lynch opened the lead to 10, the largest of the night, and forced Curtin to call his team’s third timeout.
The Crusaders would have to take their fourth just nine seconds later when Monroe slipped against a double-team. Typically, Curtin would have kept his last two timeouts for late-game clock management, but it was a position where a turnover would have been backbreaking.
“We knew it could affect the game later, but we had to use those,” the second-year head coach said.
Sure enough, after Riordan’s final timeout with 43.3 seconds left, Folsom was able to manipulate the clock. Chime Ugbaja’s 3-pointer had cut the gap to 63-59, but the Bulldogs broke the press for a layup by freshman point guard Malik Rose.
The Crusaders raced back down the court and got another three from Ugbaja after an offensive rebound, but Folsom stalled to get to the ball out of bounds, then milked the five seconds before inbounding it. Jerrald Cummings made three of his four free throws over the final 20 seconds to seal it, with the last two coming with two seconds left, after Monroe had driven the lane for the last of his game-high 25 points.
“We can’t try to put it together all at the end of a game,” Ugbaja said. “We have to put all our effort from beginning to end, not just flip it on in the second half.”
By the time the Crusaders did flip it on, it was too late. Not only were they out-rebounded 17-15 in the second half, allowing 11 boards to Lynch after the break, but they lost the turnover battle 14-8 for the night.
“The turnovers that we had led to buckets,” Curtin said. “They were live ball turnovers, and a team that plays in transition just can’t have those in a close game.”
Neither team shot particularly well from outside, with Folsom going just 3-for-12. One of those, though, was a leaning three at the first-half buzzer by Cameron Wall, son of head coach Mike Wall, to give the Bulldogs a 27-26 lead at the break. The shot capped off a choppy first half, one in which both Monroe and Je’Lani Clark each picked up two fouls.
“I had two early dumb fouls that messed up the mojo,” said Clark, who finished the night with 13 points, six rebounds and four assists.
The Crusaders got themselves into a 14-6 hole late in the first quarter, but they dug themselves out of it by going on a 14-3 run, capped off by a 3-pointer and baseline jumper from Riiny Riiny, the 6-foot-9 junior from South Sudan. He played six minutes, all in the first half.
“He just doesn’t have the weight on him yet, and he’s just a little bit behind on defense,” Curtin said when asked why Riiny’s minutes were limited. “Once he makes that leap on the defensive end, he’s gonna be good.”
Riiny missed half of January when travel issues prevented him from returning from his home country, which slowed his development. With a full summer and senior year ahead, plus the addition of his cousin, Chan Ngot, who missed the season with a torn ACL, next year could be a huge one for the Crusaders. They’ll also return their top two guards, Clark and Monroe.
“A lot of people might say we choked, but this program’s going up and up and up,” Clark said after the conclusion of his third year as a starter. “From one league win to four to 10, I’ve been here the whole time.”
As for seniors, the Crusaders will graduate Ugbaja, who scored 11 points, as well as Justice Turner, De’Sean Johnson, Zachary Quanico and Donte Henderson. Tasked with stopping Lynch, Johnson spent the night in foul trouble and had just two points, but he had three blocks and kept the Bulldogs in check when he was on the court.
“We were really relying on De’Sean,” Curtin said. “He’s our best matchup for Lynch, and when he was out, they were able to take advantage.”
The scoring-by-committee approach that Folsom used ended up with Rose scoring 10 points, Wall adding nine, Scott finishing with eight and the Bulldogs getting seven apiece from Cummings and Dylan Davis, but anyone at the Crusader Forum on Tuesday night could tell that Lynch dictated the flow of the game.
“Folsom’s offense is very unique, but we could’ve done a better job on defense,” Ugbaja said. The Crusaders forced just eight turnovers and allowed 13 points over their season average.
“We just had some defensive lapses where we didn’t get our guy back that was supposed to get back, and they took advantage,” Curtin said.
It was a harsh end to the season for a team that had hopes of knocking off top seeded Union City-Logan on Thursday, but the program is an encouraging state overall.
“I wanted more, of course. Everyone in the locker room wanted more. But you can’t rush certain things,” Curtin said. “We’re coming from one league win two years ago, and the program was kind of a doormat. Two years later, we’re here.”Archbishop Riordan High Schoolbryce monroecameron wallchime ugbajadeshawn lynchfolsom bulldogsfolsom high schoolhigh school basketballje’lani clarkmalik rosePrep SportsRiordan Crusaderstiler fears