ARCHBISHOP RIORDAN HS — With 2:48 left in the third quarter of Wednesday’s first-round Crusader Classic match-up against Sacred Heart Prep, 6-foot-9 Archbishop Riordan junior Riiny Riiny grabbed one of his four defensive rebounds.
He looked to his left and found Je’Lani Clark at full gallop. He swung the ball to the junior guard, hitting him in stride. Clark sprinted up court and found Zachary Quanico in the left corner in front of him. Quanico hoisted up a catch-and-shoot rhythm three, and as the ball hit the bottom of the net, he hop-skipped back up the sideline in front of his bench, with his teammates standing in unison.
“I remember that moment, because I was like, ‘That’s how we play,'” said head coach Joey Curtin. “That’s our brand of basketball. The bench got fired up, because we saw it in action. We found our rhythm.”
With junior center Chan Mayout and explosive transfer Bryce Monroe not eligible until January, the Crusaders led the scrappy Gators by just seven points at the half. Quanico’s 3-pointer capped a frenetic 17-7 third-quarter run for Riordan, as they pulled away for an eventual 73-54 win.
“I missed my first two threes — I airballed my first two threes,” Quanico said. “Shooters shoot. Down the stretch, my job on this team is to play defense and shoot threes, and that’s what I had to do. I have to be confident every time I shoot the ball.”
The Crusaders (1-1) were tentative over the first 16 minutes, with just two steals, allowing Sacred Heart Prep to hit four 3-pointers, with forward Brendan Carney going 3-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Dominic Wilson kept Riordan in the game, going 4-of-6 from the field and pulling down seven rebounds, including five on the offensive glass.
After heading into the locker room up 31-24, Curtin made an adjustment he’d planned on making: Instituting the full-court press.
“We were waiting to use it,” Curtinsaid. “We wanted to kind of just pick up full-court man, but we didn’t want to really trap or press fully right away. We wanted to see what they had, because we didn’t have any film on them from the first game. But, at halftime, we said, ‘OK, we’re going to use it.'”
Riordan hit six of their first eight shots after the break, while the Gators turned the ball over four times over the first five minutes of the third quarter.
Then, Quanico hit his three. He got back on defense and poked away a pass by Lee Hubbard III and hit another triple, then came away with another of his four steals on the night. That didn’t result in any points, but at that point, the rout was on. Sacred Heart Prep turned the ball over 10 times after halftime.
“We always have that in our bag. It worked well against Dublin. We knew we wanted to use it today, so when we got the right personnel out there, kind of got an athletic group out there, we went after it, really forced some turnovers and sped up the game.”
With Riordan able to get out and run, Clark got into a rhythm. After a 2-for-7 first half from the floor, the junior swing man hit 5-of-7 after the break with five of his game-high six assists, finishing with a team-high 16 points. As the Crusaders began to hum, there were fewer open looks for Carney, who scored just six of his game-high 17 in the second half.
“We played unselfish, defense-to-offense, and it really ignited the crowd, too,” Curtin said.
With 3:01 left in the game, the Crusaders’ lead had ballooned to 26 points.
“Defense fires up the whole team,” Quanico said. “There’s nothing better than getting a steal and getting a breakaway lay-up. Defense fires up the whole team.”
For Quanico, who watches the Golden State Warriors as much as possible, Riordan’s 22-9 third quarter felt familiar.
“In the third quarter, I feel like most teams are kind of relaxed,” said Quanico, who finished 4-of-8 for 12 points, with all of his field goals coming from long distance. “I feel like that’s the time to attack.”