The Riordan Crusaders didn’t have to worry about stopping Andrej Stojakovic on Monday night.
The Jesuit star, Stanford commit and son of former Sacramento Kings star Peja Stojakovic missed his ninth straight game with an ankle injury.
They still had to deal with Cole Epperson, though.
A 6-foot-7 junior, Epperson knocked down five 3-pointers and scored a game-high 33 points as the Marauders beat the Crusaders 63-52 at the 25th De La Salle Martin Luther King Jr. Classic, pulling away in the fourth quarter.
“He hit his first one, so I think he got confident and started letting it fly,” Riordan head coach Joey Curtin said of Epperson. “Obviously, he’s capable. He got hot and had a great game.”
Riordan (11-3) was tied at halftime, trailed the Sacramento powerhouse by just a single point after the third quarter and had a chance to take the lead early in the fourth, but freshman Andrew Hilman’s bid for a go-ahead layup rolled off of the notoriously tough De La Salle rims. Ahjani Lewis scored a three-point play at the other end, kicking off a 16-1 Marauders run that put the game out of reach, with Epperson throwing down a dunk and sinking his final two 3-pointers.
For the first time since King-Njhsanni Wilhite abruptly left for Red Rock Academy, the Crusaders looked like a team without its point guard. Riordan turned the ball over 17 times.
On top of that, the Crusaders made just nine of 19 free throws and missed a boatload of open looks, shooting 20-for-50 (40%) from the field.
A team with tons of talent but minimal depth saw its weaknesses further exploited when starting forward Nathan Tshamala, cousin of Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga, took an elbow to the face less than two-and-a-half minutes into the game. He did not return, and went to receive dental work following the game.
“We just got kinda thin real fast,” Curtin said. “Christian (Wise) and Jasir (Rencher) got fouls early on top of that.”
Rencher had two fouls inside the first five minutes, while Wise, Hilman and Zachary Jones each picked up their second fouls by the end of the second quarter.
Rencher, who had a team-high 11 points and game-high 12 rebounds, scored on a spinning drive to cap off a 7-0 run and give the Crusaders a 38-30 lead less than three minutes into the quarter, but the Marauders responded with a 12-2 run of their own. Epperson scored six during that stretch, Lewis knocked down a 3-pointer and Kevin Haupt hit a three to tie the game at 40. Epperson’s basket off a Reid Jones assist gave Jesuit (14-4) its first lead of the second half.
Epperson scored Jesuit’s first 11 points, and he also collected a team-high seven rebounds. Lewis scored 16, and Haupt, who transferred from nearby public school Oakmont, scored seven of his nine in the second half.
Hilman finished with 10 points and six rebounds, while both Kaia Berridge and Zachary Jones added nine. Jones scored seven straight for Riordan in the second quarter, helping the Crusaders out to a 26-20 lead, but a Lewis offensive rebound and 3-pointer evened the score at 28.
Achilles Woodson finished with seven points, while Wise contributed six points and eight rebounds.
There won’t be much time for the Crusaders to lick their wounds. They host Mitty (12-2, 4-0 West Catholic Athletic League) on Tuesday night. The Monarchs are led by Princeton commit Derek Sangster.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]