The Riordan Crusaders took sole possession of first place in the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) on Tuesday night, and they did it in style.
The team threw down nine dunks, with six coming from Christian Wise, and led wire-to-wire in an authoritative 60-50 win over the Mitty Monarchs before a spirited crowd at the Crusader Forum.
“I think Mitty underestimates us. There’s a lot of hype around them as a school,” Wise said. “They’re definitely a tough team, but they thought they could take advantage of our loss yesterday.”
Riordan (12-3, 5-0 WCAL) looked like a completely new team on Tuesday night, barely 24 hours after losing to Jesuit at the De La Salle Martin Luther King Jr. Classic. The Crusaders sliced up Mitty’s zone defense with ease, kept Princeton commit Derek Sangster off the glass and compensated for a height disadvantage created by the absence of forward Nathan Tshamala, who was out after taking an elbow to the jaw during the first quarter of Monday’s loss.
“We had one of our players go down off of an intentional foul that went uncalled, and we had to pay it forward,” Wise said. “We took a lot of that anger and aggression out on Mitty tonight.”
They took that anger and aggression out both on the Monarchs and the rims. Jasir Rencher opened the game with a steal and dunk, Wise threw down an alley-oop from Achilles Woodson and a Kaia Berridge steal and slam gave the Crusaders an early 12-5 lead and forced Mitty (12-3, 4-1) to take an early timeout.
Riordan led 17-12 after a quarter, went up by seven on another jam by Wise and took a 29-23 lead into the half after Achilles Woodson scored eight points in the quarter. Woodson scored a game-high 21 points, buoyed by his 10-of-12 free throw performance.
Woodson, who’s started at point guard since King-Njhsanni Wilhite left for Red Rock Academy, scored the exact number of points Wilhite averaged per game. At the same time, he was tasked with defending larger opponents throughout the night, mainly matching up with 6-foot-7 forward Eric Brown, a matchup the 6-foot-5 Tshamala would have likely taken.
“We’re short on wings and bigs, so we just have to play tough and move our feet and stay in front,” Riordan head coach Joey Curtin said. “We took some charges and we boxed out really well. The guards were guarding everybody.”
The Monarchs were whistled for four offensive fouls, including three charges.
Rencher opened the third quarter with Riordan’s fifth dunk, and Wise delivered a two-handed slam off an Andrew Hilman assist after the Monarchs had cut the lead to four on a Derek Sangster putback. Sangster led Mitty with 13 points, but was largely kept in check by Rencher, who had also locked him down in last year’s Central Coast Section (CCS) Open Division Championship Game.
The Crusaders ended the third quarter on a 9-0 run to take a 44-31 lead, then led by 15 early in the fourth after another basket by Woodson. Mitty trailed 46-35 after Gavin Ripp scored on an inbound play that drew Curtin’s ire, but those frustrations were quickly silenced when Wise flushed an alley-oop from Zachary Jones.
The impromptu dunk contest was a combination of Riordan’s ability to get out in transition and to carve up Mitty’s zone. The Monarchs largely stayed in a zone defense to take advantage of their length and compensate for foul trouble and a lack of depth. Guard Tyler Jones is out for at least a month with an ankle injury, and backcourt mate Nathan Noronha missed Tuesday’s game with an illness. Zones had given Riordan trouble over the last few years, but the unit that took the floor on Tuesday night never stalled out against it.
“I almost feel happy when they go zone,” Curtin said. “We’re consistent against it because we have great passers in there, and that’s been the difference from years past where maybe we didn’t have the best passers.”
Mitty did go on a 7-0 run to get within six with 3:50 remaining, but Woodson made five of his six free throws over the final four minutes to help put the game to bed. The exclamation point came with 1:11 on the clock. After a Brown layup had cut the lead to nine, the Crusaders broke Mitty’s press, and Woodson fed Wise for a reverse alley-oop, the last of Riordan’s nine dunks.
It was an appropriate display of power and skill to reward the best crowd to fill the Crusader forum since the outset of the Covid pandemic. The Riordan band took to the sidelines for warmups for the first time since early 2020, and the girls team led vocal student support throughout the night from directly behind the Crusader bench.
“I hope the buzz keeps growing, and this win propels us to great crowds,” Curtin said.
Riordan’s boys team plans to return the favor and support the girls on Wednesday night when they travel to St. Ignatius.
Wise finished with 17 points. His lone field goal that wasn’t a dunk came with 3:47 left in the third quarter to give the Crusaders a 35-29 lead. Berridge, making his first start, scored 12 and Rencher finished with eight.
Brown scored 11 for the Monarchs, point guard Jaiden Paran added nine and Ripp finished with six points, five rebounds and five assists.
The Crusader boys return to action on Friday when they travel to San Jose to face Bellarmine (6-8, 1-4).
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]