Here’s the thing about old adages: They last as long as they do because they’re, well, true.
In the world of sports writing, they’re called “clichés” and they’re to be avoided at all costs. But there’s no getting around this one, one of the oldest in basketball: “Live by the three and die by the three.” And Tuesday night’s Northern California Open Division boys basketball semifinal between Modesto Christian and Bishop O’Dowd will provide that particular axiom with years of extended life.
The Crusaders (29-4), who shot 34 percent from 3-point range coming into the contest played at Laney College, hit just 2 of 22 (.091) from beyond the arc against the Dragons, falling 61-58 as Junior Ballard’s half-court shot just before the buzzer glanced off the rim.
O’Dowd (27-5) will play Sheldon (Sacramento), a 64-55 winner over Folsom, on Saturday for the Northern California championship
“For the most part, we did what we were supposed to do,” said MC’s second-year coach Brice Fantazia. “We just didn’t shoot well, 2 for 22 from 3. We shot it well all year. We just didn’t’ shoot it well tonight. You can’t do that against elite teams and Bishop O’Dowd is an elite program with an elite coach.”
O’Dowd (27-5) is, indeed, an elite program, perhaps the Bay Area’s most storied. The Dragons played for the state crown in 2014 and 2015, winning it all three years ago. Now, they’re two wins away from another. Coach Lou Richie is a Bishop O’Dowd alum and part of that rich tradition, having played in a the 1989 state final in which the Dragons lost to Manual Arts (Los Angeles) when Richie’s game-winning shot at the buzzer was waved off.
In other words, he knows a thing or two about big-time Northern California basketball. And he likes what he sees in Modesto Christian, a team he’s faced seven times since becoming O’Dowd’s head coach before the 2012-13 season.
“We’d love to win by 20,” said Richie. “Everyone said, ‘Great game tonight.’ I said, ‘No, it wasn’t a great game.’ Maybe for the fans. I mean, they’re the No. 1 team in Northern California next year, if not the state. They’ll be a Top 20 team in the country. They’ll take this experience, they’ve got good coaching, they’ve got great support and they will be a handful next year. And most likely they’ll be on this side of this conversation and we’llbe on that side.”
That’s heady praise from a coach who is averaging 24 wins per season. But until next year, the Crusaders are left with the sting of knowing this game was theirs for the taking.
“I thought we played extremely hard, played great defense, they followed the scouting report, did everything that they were asked to do. The ball just didn’t go in the basket. Sometimes that’s just how it works.”
Modesto Christian opened the game with a 10-2 run and led most of the first half, giving up the lead for the first time with 1:51 to play in the half and trailing 32-30 at the intermission.
From that point, neither team was able to pull away, until O’Dowd stretched its lead to 57-51 midway through the final period.
The Crusaders still trailed by six with 1:35 to play when Junior Ballard hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key that made it a one-possession game. MC’s defense forced a turnover and Michael Pearson had a good look at a 3-pointer that just missed. O’Dowd called timeout with 44 seconds to play but came up empty on its next possession and MC pushed the ball up the floor. Ballard misfired on a 3-ball with 12 seconds to play.
O’Dowd then missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Crusaders one last chance. But Ballard rushed the final shot from half-court and O’Dowd controlled the ball.
“We were getting stops … just empty possessions. For the most part I thought we were getting decent looks. I do think we could’ve thrown the ball inside more. Gabe Murphy was a beast tonight. hey had no answer for him. But e’ve kind of lived and died by the 3 all year,” said Fantazia. “Even that last play, Junior kind of rushed the 3 to tie the game … not the one from the half court, but the other one. I had one timeout left, we had 2-on-1, had two of my seniors, decided to just let my players go make a play. And all season they’ve been a making a play and tonight it didn’t go our way.”