Bryce Monroe (left) and Je'Lani Clark led Riordan to a Crusader Classic title and were named to the All-Tournament Team for their efforts.
Will Watkins

Clark and Monroe lead Riordan to Crusader Classic title

December 9, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO — Sometimes it’s best to just keep things simple.

For all the complex plays and different lineup complications Riordan can throw together to stymie opponents, when push came to shove in the championship game of the 61st Crusader Classic, the tournament hosts didn’t over-complicate things at all. When San Ramon Valley used a 10-0 run to tie the game in the third quarter and again when the Wolves cut the lead to three with a minute remaining, the Crusaders put the ball in the hands of their two stars. Both times, it paid off handsomely, with Bryce Monroe and Je’Lani Clark coming up with clutch baskets, willing Riordan to a 65-57 win.

“It’s as simple as that,” head coach Joey Curtin said. “Sometimes it’s just who you trust with the ball and who’s gonna make the right play. It’s kind of easy for us when you have two options like that.”

San Ramon Valley (2-1) never led past the midpoint of the second quarter but hung tough the entire way, scoring 10 straight in the third to even up the game at 37 with four points from Pat Deely and threes from Brady Bowman and Tyler Isaak. Those points were all Deely, a four-year varsity player and three-year starter, would score on the night, but he had a game-high 11 rebounds and completely shut down 7-foot-1 Riordan sophomore Mor Seck, despite giving up half a foot to the Senegalese big man. With the size advantage failing to yield points for the hosts, they went back to their star guards.

“Everything just opened up for me,” said Monroe, who scored a game-high 31 after an empty first quarter. “I’m a very streaky shooter, and once I hit one, I’m gonna keep hitting.”

The Sam Houston State commit gave Riordan (4-0) the lead with a long jumper after shaking off his defender, then scored from mid-range after Dominic Wilson drew a foul when diving for a loose ball. Wilson, who shot 60% as a junior, only attempted one shot and went scoreless on the night but was vital over the course of his 14 minutes. The transition from playing the post to more of a guard/small forward role has meant different offensive

“It’s just a matter of who the ball’s going to,” Curtin said. “He’s just playing the perimeter more this year, and he’s going to need to be the guy to knock down that open shot when he gets his opportunity. That’s his role now, and it’s different, but he stepped up and he’s playing well.”

As important as Wilson was, it was Monroe and Clark’s night. The duo combined for all 16 of Riordan’s points in the third and 31 of 35 in the second half, with Clark’s full-court drive and basket restoring momentum after a Sebastien Scott steal and Isaak layup cut the lead to 58-55 with 57.4 seconds left. The only other players to score in the second half for Riordan were junior guard Lee Hubbard, who had an open layup in the final moments after the Crusaders broke SRV’s press, and junior forward Robert Vaihola.

Vaihola, who transferred from Hillsdale after his sophomore year, scored six points and seemed to find a way to impact the game at its most critical moments, whether through a bone-crushing screen to open up a drive for one of the guards or through his play in the post. Clark missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 5:45 left, but a Vaihola putback made it 51-45, and it was a Vaihola screen that allowed Clark to drive and bring the lead back to five in the final minute.

“The plan was to just create space because I had the hot hand,” said Clark, who scored 20 on 7-of-10 shooting and had a team-high nine rebounds. “I was just trying to get to the bucket and finish strong.”

With just one timeout remaining and a dire need for a basket on the following possession, the Wolves quickly looked to J.P. Murphy down low, but the football standout’s shot was blocked by Vaihola, and Hubbard’s stretch pass to Monroe led to a game-sealing and-1 that doubled as Scott’s fifth foul, putting an end to a solid night for SRV’s leader that certainly impressed Washington State head coach Kyle Smith, who was in attendance and is quite familiar with the Bay Area after coaching at Saint Mary’s and USF.

A three-year starter at point guard leading a team that has four interchangeable guards, Scott was one of the most impressive players on a Wolves team that looks like a serious player after graduating just three seniors last year. He announced his presence with a one-handed dunk late in the first quarter en route to a 14-point night. Isaak led San Ramon Valley with 15, while Bowman finished with 10 and Michael Santich added eight. Both Scott and Deely were named to the All-Tournament Team.

Riordan had three players named to the All-Tournament Team, but no MVP award was given out. Monroe missed Friday night’s win over Mission with a sore neck and Seck, who had double-doubles in the first two games, went scoreless with just two rebounds in 16 minutes. Vaihola, Wilson and Chan Ngot combined to take most of his minutes in the second half, with Ngot offering advice and comfort to Seck in the locker room following the game.

“He’s just started off so strong that you think, ‘oh, he’s this established player who has a lot of experience,’ and that’s just not the case,” Curtin said of the highly-recruited sophomore. “He’s young, he’s only a sophomore and he hasn’t been playing that long. Sophomores on varsity have rough games and tonight was his rough game. He’ll learn from it, and we’ll watch and see where he can get better.”

His next chance to impress will be on Tuesday, when the Crusaders host Weston Ranch (0-2) at 6:30 p.m. before both teams head to the Gridley Invitational, where the teams will be on opposite sides of the bracket. SRV will host Heritage (2-2) Tuesday night and host the Mark Madsen Invitational next weekend, starting the tournament off against Pitman (4-1).

St. Patrick-St. Vincent 56, Mission 45

Even without the services of point guard Jalen Scott (ankle), the Bruins still managed to finish third in the tournament behind DJ Jackson’s 16 points and 15 rebounds plus 14 points from Jaden Alexander, who threw down an enormous one-handed dunk in transition in the first quarter. Esai Contreras added 12 for St. Patrick-St. Vincent (3-1), which led wire-to-wire. The Bruins held a 17-5 advantage in the first quarter and went up by 16 in the second before Marcelo Solis scored eight off the bench for Mission (1-3), stepping up with fellow forward Julian Neal in foul trouble, a product of Jackson’s dominance. Neal still finished with 13 and was held to one rebound while Andre Villarino led the Bears with 16, hitting four of nine 3-point attempts. His teammates combined to go 0-for-15 from long range as SPSV stretched the lead to as much as 19 before a late Mission push cut the lead all the way down to nine with 2:52 left on a goaltend. However, the only remaining points scored would be on a Trent Militar-Cross layup a minute later as the Bruins locked down on defense in the final minutes to secure the win.

Sacred Heart Prep 67, Berkeley 59

The Gators trailed by six at halftime but outscored the Yellowjackets 21-7 in a dominant third quarter to take the Consolation Championship, locking down on defense by double-teaming Jamir Thomas. Thomas still scored a game-high 31 for Berkeley (1-2), but 19 of those came in the first half as the Jackets raced out to a 32-26 lead at the break. Sacred Heart Prep (2-1) had a much more balanced effort, getting 18 points from Jai Deshpande, who failed to hit a 3-pointer but injected life into his team’s bench with a dunk and made eight of nine free throws en route to a place on the All-Tournament Team. Sophomore Aidan Braccia scored 17 behind four threes and Charlie Selna scored 14, all but sealing the game with an and-1 on a dunk with 2:52 remaining. The Gators also got eight points apiece from sophomore Emmer Nichols and James Pleasants, while Makoa Battson scored nine for Berkeley.

KIPP San Francisco 43, Mills 41

The tournament newcomers won the seventh-place game while Mills (0-3) finished in last for the second straight year.

All-Tournament Team

Jaden Alexander (St. Patrick-St. Vincent), Je’Lani Clark (Riordan), Pat Deely (San Ramon Valley), Jai Deshpande (Sacred Heart Prep), DJ Jackson (St. Patrick-St. Vincent), Bryce Monroe (Riordan), Julian Neal (Mission), Sebastien Scott (San Ramon Valley), Mor Seck (Riordan), Jamir Thomas (Berkeley)

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