Riordan didn’t look like a team that had just lost its starting point guard.
In their first game without King-Njhsanni Wilhite, who left for Red Rock Academy in Las Vegas six days earlier, the Crusaders displayed a balanced attack and rode an 18-2 run at the start of the second quarter to a 63-52 road win over rival St. Ignatius to open West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) play.
“King scored a lot of points for us, but that’s one player. He wasn’t the team,” sophomore Jasir Rencher said. “We’ve still got players that can play.”
Wilhite averaged 21 points per game, but Riordan (8-2, 1-0 WCAL) had six different players score at least seven points, led by freshman Andrew Hilman’s 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Christian Wise’s dunk to close the first quarter precipitated the pivotal 18-2 run. His vicious one-handed slam after Kaia Berridge’s offensive rebound sent Riordan into the second quarter with a 17-13 lead, an advantage that quintupled over the following six minutes.
“I felt like we were playing better than the score differential showed in the first quarter,” Riordan head coach Joey Curtin said. “That dunk kind of said, ‘We’re in control, let’s keep it going.’”
Wise finished with eight points and six rebounds, one of his quieter statistical performances this season, but his dunk carried much more significance than the two points on the scoreboard.
Rencher opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer, and Zachary Jones followed with a steal and layup. It took nearly four minutes for the host Wildcats to score, and when they did, Rencher answered Steele Labagh’s layup with a dunk off one of Hilman’s three assists.
Rencher and Nathan Tshamala each finished with 10 points. Tshamala, cousin of Golden State Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga, scored all of his points in the game’s first 10 minutes.
“If he can stay confident, he can have an outburst like you saw,” Curtin said of Tshamala.
Tshamala was supposed to be joined by his cousin, freshman Alex Kuminga, but weather delayed his flight from Orlando. Alex’s arrival will complete Riordan’s international contingent: Tshamala and Kuminga are Congolese, Hilman is from Cameroon and Berridge is from New Zealand.
Berridge, a junior, made his Riordan debut on Wednesday night after sitting out a transfer period, and while it took him a while to find himself on the floor, he still managed seven points.
“He was a little nervous and a little pumped up,” Curtin said. “As he gets used to the speed, he’ll be a dangerous weapon for us.”
Berridge and Jones can both play point guard, but Achilles Woodson, in his third year on the varsity squad, got the start at the position and scored 11 points.
“He told me all week that he’s been ready to step up,” Curtin said. “He showed that he knows what to do, and he’s not afraid of the bright lights.”
Woodson’s 3-pointer midway through the third kicked off a 7-0 run to put Riordan up 46-26.
St. Ignatius (6-5, 0-1) trailed 54-41 with six minutes left after freshman Raymond Whitley knocked down a 3-pointer, but scored just two more points over the next four minutes. The Wildcats shot 5-of-24 from 3-point range on the night, and Riordan emptied the bench with a 17-point lead with two minutes remaining.
Kreekor Karageuzian, who announced his commitment to Division III Vassar over the weekend, scored a game-high 17 for the hosts.
“Kreekor played hard,” said acting head coach Jamal Baugh. “He had a little bit of foul trouble, which has continued to go with him.”
Baugh served as head coach with Jason Greenfield serving the first game of a two-game suspension stemming from freshman participation in a June tournament in Arizona. Baugh became the first Black head coach in St. Ignatius basketball history.
“I wasn’t thinking about it, but it feels good to be the first,” Baugh said. “It’s unique. My brother, Steve Bluford, was the first Black head coach on the football side.”
Baugh, a 1994 Riordan alum, is in his 11th year on the SI staff.
“It was cool that his first varsity game was against me,” Curtin said. “We used to coach together in CYO.”
Caeden Hutcherson scored 12 points for the Wildcats, John Squire added nine and Whitley finished with seven.
“We’ve got three freshmen. Every game, they’re all growing,” Baugh said, referring to Hutcherson, Labagh and Whitley. “When you’re young and inexperienced, once you get down 10-12 points, you want to get it back on one play when you just need to continue to work the ball and stick to the gameplan.”
The Wildcats visit Valley Christian (5-6, 0-1) on Friday. The Warriors lost 77-51 at St. Francis (9-2, 1-0) on Wednesday night. The Lancers will visit Riordan on Friday night. Both games are scheduled to tip off at 7:30.