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Riordan suffers first loss as Campolindo extends streak

Riordan forward Nathan Tshamala (21) tries to score over Campolindo guard Logan Robeson (24) during the first quarter of the Crusaders’ 54-51 loss to the Cougars in the Gridley Invitational Basketball Tournament in Gridley on Dec. 9, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

A night after they threw down 12 dunks in a rout of host Gridley, the Riordan Crusaders didn’t record a single slam in Friday night’s semifinal of the 68th Gridley Invitational Basketball Tournament.

In fact, it was a missed dunk that loomed as the most significant play in Riordan’s 54-51 loss to Campolindo, the Cougars’ 41st straight win over a Bay Area team.

Leading 37-36 in the third quarter, Crusaders point guard King-Njhsanni Wilhite tried to punctuate a fastbreak with a two-handed jam, but failed to convert. He tried in vain to finish the play after missing the initial dunk, but was assessed a technical foul for hanging on the rim.

Logan Robeson made one of two free throws at the other end to tie the game, and Dylan Mansour found Shane O’Reilly for an open 3-pointer to put Campolindo (5-0) in front. In all, it was a six-point swing, and it kick-started a 12-1 run that Riordan (5-1) could never overcome.

Riordan guard King-Njhsanni Wilhite (3) attempts a dunk during the third quarter of the Crusaders' 54-51 loss to Campolindo in the Gridley Invitational Basketball Tournament in Gridley on Dec. 9, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

“They just had the big momentum plays, and we were just kind of on the opposite side of a lot of them,” head coach Joey Curtin said.

That’s not to say the Crusaders never had a chance after falling behind by 10, though. Jasir Rencher scored the final basket of the third quarter to cut the lead to 48-40, and the Cougars scored just six points in the entire fourth quarter and none after a Clay Naffziger offensive rebound led to an O’Reilly 3-pointer with 4:59 to go. Christian Wise’s and-1 with 2:36 left made it 54-47, and he scored again moments later after Riordan pressure forced a turnover.

However, the Crusaders missed their next four shots, and didn’t score again until a Wilhite layup with 10.8 left. Knowing that a made free throw would all but end the game, Curtin instructed his team to go for a steal rather than the foul. The Cougars withstood the pressure, and Riordan ultimately had to concede and send Tyler Bergren to the line with 1.1 left. He missed, but the Crusaders didn’t have enough time to make any sort of last-second heave.

The loss sends Riordan into the third-place game against Clovis North (5-2). The Broncos lost to Salesian in the earlier semifinal, 55-53.

Riordan guard King-Njhsanni Wilhite (3) attempts to steal the ball from Campolindo guard Logan Robeson (24) during the fourth quarter of the Crusaders' 54-51 loss to the Cougars in the Gridley Invitational Basketball Tournament in Gridley on Dec. 9, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

Robeson scored a game-high 24 for the Cougars, including seven in the second quarter and another 10 in the third. He made nine of his 10 free throws.

“He won a lot of the individual matchups with some nice plays,” Curtin said. “If he’s a little bit off, we win the game.”

Robeson’s and-1 with 7:09 left put Campolindo up 51-40. O’Reilly scored 16, knocking down four 3-pointers before fouling out on Wise’s three-point play with 2:36 left.

Wise scored 13 points and collected a game-high 12 rebounds. Wilhite scored 12 and Rencher added 11, with seven coming in the first half. Achilles Woodson, making his first start of the year, scored eight.

Riordan scored the game’s first six points but led just 12-11 after a quarter. Robeson’s off-balance 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock gave the Cougars a 30-26 advantage late in the second quarter before Rencher closed the half with a pair of free throws. The Crusaders took a 33-30 lead in the third quarter on back-to-back baskets by Rencher and Wilhite, starting a sequence of six lead changes in five minutes that ended with O’Reilly’s go-ahead 3-pointer after the technical foul.

It’s a loss that will likely boot the Crusaders from the top ranking in most Bay Area publications. That spot will likely go to Campolindo, De La Salle or Salesian, but it’s the sort of defeat that can offer enough lessons to make up for the frustration of losing to a team that’s dominated local competition for the last four years.

“We’re not going to be the same team in February and March, just personnel wise and experience wise,” Curtin commented.