SALIDA — Want to know one of the differences between a good basketball player and a great one?
A good player will beat you on the court. A great player beats you on the court and in your head.
There's no question Bishop O'Dowd sophomore forward Ivan Rabb falls into that latter category, as he proved in his team's 71-62 victory at Modesto Christian on Saturday night.
Rabb had his usual numbers 22 points, 16 rebounds, nine blocked shots but his presence on the floor, particularly at the defensive end, was the deciding factor.
He blocked four shots in the first three minutes of the game, and that was all that was necessary for the Crusaders to have etched in their collective brain the large, looming right hand of the lanky, 6-feet, 9-inch leaper.
"I'm pretty sure that everyone will attest that Ivan Rabb is a phenomenal player," said MC senior guard T.J. Wallace. "He has a large impact on every game he plays because of his length and his athleticism. He alters shots just because he's a good shot blocker. He times everything well and played well tonight."
So that was half the reason the Crusaders (22-3) dropped their final non-league game before the start of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
The other half was their inability to connect on the shots Rabb had no chance of blocking, because in the history of basketball no one ever has blocked a free throw.
And yet MC was futile at the stripe. They had success getting to the basket and getting fouled, and after making their first three free throws converted only four of their final 17.
During the key stretch of the game the late third and early fourth quarter MC made only two of eight free throws as the Dragons (20-3) turned a 42-41 deficit with 3:30 left in the third quarter into a 61-47 lead with 3:17 left in the game.
"We were down four points and kept missing free throw after free throw, and they'd go down and score," said MC co-head coach Gary Porter. "Who knows what would have happened if we had managed to be tied with three minutes left?
"We need to find something to become consistent at the line. Last night we shot well at the line. Maybe it's fatigue or maybe it's excitement. I don't know."
There were some bright spots for Modesto Christian. Their own sophomore post, 6-6 Anthony Townes, scored 12 points and was active enough on defense to keep Bishop O'Dowd from easily getting Rabb the ball in the low post.
But MC's biggest spark came off the bench in the form of Mason Washington. He led the Crusaders with 19 points, including 10 in the second quarter when the home team briefly led 24-17 on the strength of his perimeter shooting.
No team can survive on the outside shot alone, and the Crusaders eventually had to go back and challenge Rabb in the paint.
It seemed every MC inside shot after the opening three minutes was altered in some way, whether an instantaneous glance in Rabb's direction, or a radical double- or triple-pump move at the end of a drive.
"I don't know if we were intimidated, because we kept going in there, but the guys were anticipating the block," Porter said. "We told the kids at halftime to just shoot the ball, and if he blocks, then he blocks it. He's supposed to block shots. He's a 6-9 shot-blocker. He'll get a few."
At game's end, the MC players were slow to leave the locker room, trailing their coaching staff by five minutes. Inside, Wallace had called a quick team meeting to rally his teammates for what's ahead.
"I know the guys are tired right now, but it's a matter of mental toughness," Wallace said. "We're going into our third season, the playoffs, and we have to continue to motivate each other to get better. We'll be fine down the stretch as long as we fix the little things."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek