A long time ago, basketball decided to reward outside shooters by adding the 3-point line.
If they took that rule and extended it to a ridiculous level, Modesto Junior College would have blown out Sacramento City on Tuesday instead of falling 94-81.
The Pirates, with no inside game, stayed reasonably close by hitting 11 3-pointers, including six by Zach Gonzales, some of which were from well beyond NBA 3-point range.
Now if those were worth five or six points, the Pirates had the winning hand against the Panthers, who spent the entire game making a lot of shots inside the paint.
That’s a roundabout way of saying that MJC was not good on defense against a team whose advantage was more in hustle and effort than it was in size.
“We just have games where we don’t set the tone defensively from the start,” coach Paul Brogan said. “Teams come in with a lot of confidence against us and teams seem to shoot the ball well in here. We have something to do with that, and we’re real inconsistent defensively.
“Until the team takes ownership of how important it is to be a real good defensive team..., this is what’s going happen.”
The Pirates don’t have a lot of time to learn how to flip that switch. Modesto is looking at an 11-13 overall record and is 4-5 in the Big 8 Conference. Eighteen teams will be seeded into the NorCal tournament, and the Pirates need to go on a hot streak to be one of the chosen.
“We have five games left and there’s no more ‘my bad’ when we come back to the bench,” said Gonzales, a freshman from Riverbank High who scored a game-high 23 points. “We have to win out or go four out of five to make the playoffs. Every game is a playoff game from here on out.”
The rest of the season begins Friday with a game at San Joaquin Delta, but in essence the playoff drive really began against Sacramento (13-11, 5-4).
The Panthers never trailed, and got a big boost when Modesto center Josh Allen picked up his second foul just seven minutes into the action. But even with the athletic Downey grad in the game, the Panthers had jumped to a 16-9 lead just by going inside or scoring in transition.
“Losing Josh early hurt us,” Brogan said. “But we’d miss a shot and get beat in transition, and that has nothing to do with our only inside presence being out of the game.”
Sacramento, which had four players scoring 17 or more points, rolled to a 42-28 lead with 4:11 left in the half, but the Pirates had just begun a hot streak in which Gonzales, Eric Melgar and Edwin Castellanos were combining to drill six consecutive 3-pointers.
It briefly pulled Modesto within three points at 46-43, but the Panthers finished the half on a 6-2 run, including an uncontested coast-to-coast drive by Kenny Woodard for a buzzer-beating layup, for a 52-45 lead.
The margin never shrunk to smaller than five the rest of the way, and Sacramento enjoyed double-digit leads for the final eight minutes.
Melgar had 13 points and Castellanos scored 10. Allen never got going before fouling out, but had two sky-scraping dunks in his eight-point effort.
The Pirates will need Allen at the top of his inside game and will need better team defense to stay alive for a postseason berth.
“We were tied with Sacramento and both of us probably won’t be in the playoffs,” Brogan said.
“We have to win four of five to get in. Can we do it? Sure, but it’s not going to be easy. We have to come in with the right defensive mindset.”
Sacramento City 50, Modesto JC 43 – This might have been the Pirates’ last best chance to claim a conference victory, but 40 minutes of offensive woes doomed MJC to falling to 0-9 in the Big 8 and and 6-14 overall.
The Panthers (3-6, 10-12) muddled to a 20-16 halftime lead, and appeared to have the game in control after opening the second half on an 8-0 run.
The Pirates responded with their own burst, pulling within 30-28 with 9:02 remaining before the offense again went dormant, scoring only six points over the following seven minutes as Sacramento slowly pulled away.
Brianna McGinness had 11 points and Breihanna Castilleja scored 10 for MJC.