Modesto Christian survives scare, beats Newark in NorCals (w/video)

jcortez@modbee.comMarch 14, 2014 

  • Today’s Playoff Games

    Boys

    6 p.m. – SF University at Central Catholic, Riverbank at St. Patrick’s/St. Vincent

    Girls

    6 p.m. – Patterson at Enterprise, Soquel at Modesto Christian

— Modesto Christian guard Mason Washington, playing on one good ankle, hit a 3-point shot with 18 seconds to play, propelling the Crusaders to a 56-55 victory over Newark Memorial in the first round of the CIF Open Division Northern California boys basketball regional tournament Friday night.

The No. 5 Crusaders (24-8) advance to play top-seeded Bishop O’Dowd (26-4), who beat MC 70-52 on Feb. 8 and feature one of the best juniors in the country in 6-foot-10 center Ivan Rabb. Newark also beat the Crusaders in the regular season, winning the season opener 64-50.

“It felt good coming out of my hand,” said Washington, who twisted his ankle and the end of the third quarter and still managed to lead all scorers with 20 points. “It really did. I knew their big (6-foot-8 Matthew Thomas) was going to jump, so I put a little extra arch on it.”

After Washington’s 3-pointer, Modesto Christian still wasn’t in a position to start making travel plans to Oakland for its Tuesday game against the Dragons.

Washington’s shot from the baseline put Modesto Christian ahead 56-54, its first lead in more than 3 minutes after playing ahead for virtually the entire game.

Newark’s Michael Pickney attempted a 3-pointer, but was fouled by MC guard Jeff Wu. Pickney went to the line with a chance to give the Cougars the lead with 13.4 seconds remaining in somebody’s season.

But Pickney missed the first two shots, made the third, and MC had the ball and a one-point lead – 56-55 – when Christian Ellis (six points) was fouled and went to the line for a one-and-one.

He missed the front end and the Cougars had the ball with 11 seconds to play.

“I was a little nervous, but I don’t think nerves caused me to miss it,” said Ellis. “I just overshot it, and then I kept thinking, ‘I’m not going to let that lose the game for us.’ ”

Newark got the ball into the hands of its best player: guard Joey Frenchwood (13 points), who drove the lane and went up for the winning shot.

But true to his word, Ellis didn’t let MC lose, delivering the defensive play of the night when he blocked Frenchwood’s shot and raced the other way with the ball.

After a brief meeting, the officials determined Ellis was fouled before the buzzer sounded, so he went to the line for a less intense one-and-one, with a fraction of a second left on the clock.

He missed again, but this time it hardly mattered. Newark’s desperation attempt at the buzzer was never close.

“We just gutted up when we had to and made plays,” said MC coach Richard Midgley, who will remain co-coach with the legendary Gary Porter for at least one more game.

Porter will retire after this season and Midgley will take over.

“It wasn’t pretty, but at this time of year, a win’s a win,” Midgley said.

Modesto Christian pulled head in the first quarter thanks to a hot stretch from 3-point land. The Crusaders hit four out of five attempts in the first eight minutes and led 17-11 after one, 28-21 at the break and 47-40 heading into the fourth quarter.

After Ellis quickly made the lead nine points with a bucket to open the final stanza, it appeared that MC was determined to milk as much of the 35-second shot clock as it could on each possession.

After the game, Midgley explained that the Crusaders weren’t so much looking to let the air out of the ball, but trying to get their big men – 6-6 juniors Anthony Townes and Kevin Hamlet – involved in each possession.

“We were just trying to be patient,” said Midgley. “We wanted to run a set to get a touch inside.”

In the first half, Midgley explained, if the Crusaders rushed a shot, it allowed Newark to get into its transition offense – a dangerous proposition.

Still, the patient approach appeared to take MC out of its offensive rhythm and disrupt the tempo. Trailing 49-40, the Cougars went on a 12-0 run that put them ahead by three with 2:11 to play.

Hamlet (12 points) stopped the bleeding with a strong move inside for two, but Thomas put Newark ahead by three again with an alley-oop from Frenchwood.

Anthony Townes scored on a put-back with 1:17 to play, which would be the last points until Washington’s trey.

This was as close a game as MC has been in for quite some time, and for a few minutes Friday, it looked as if this would be the end of the road for Porter, the coach at MC for 18 seasons and more than 500 victories.

“Of course,” replied Porter, when asked if that thought ever crossed his mind on the bench. “But not for too long.

“I told the kids that they’ve got to want it. And they did.”

Bee staff writer Joe Cortez can be reached at jcortez@modbee.com or (209) 578-2380. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeePreps.

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