Pirates win but say they need to improve

COLUMBIA -- Paul Brogan sounded more like a losing coach than one whose team just won a basketball game, but he knows what he saw Saturday afternoon was a Modesto Junior College team lacking a very key ingredient.

"Right now we have a lot of things to fix, and they're all fixable," Brogan said after the Pirates got by the Occidental College junior varsity 49-45. "The players have lost confidence, and that's going to be something we'll have to overcome."

The win pushed MJC (3-2) against Diablo Valley in this morning's consolation finals of the Black Oak Tipoff Classic at Columbia College.

The host Claim Jumpers, who lost 76-72 to Merritt in Saturday's final game, will meet Los Angeles City College in the third-place game at noon, with Merritt and College of the Sequoias battling for the title at 2 p.m.

Modesto's game is set for a 10 o'clock start, which means an early wake-up call for the Pirates. In essence, this entire weekend so far has been a wake-up call for MJC.

The Pirates began the season 2-0 and reached the finals of last weekend's tournament in San Jose. But that was followed by Friday's loss to Merritt, and then Saturday's listless performance. The Pirates barely talked on the court, had very little flow in the offense and weren't appearing to be having very much fun.

"I don't know what the problem is," said sophomore guard Eleazar Jones, who scored 15 points to match the game-high total of teammate Marvin Jefferson. "Yesterday and today we seemed to have a lack of focus and energy. We didn't have the same intensity and came out sluggish against Merritt and they beat us. With this team we started out the same way."

Occidental (0-2) took a 26-23 lead at halftime by outhustling the Pirates to loose balls. Peter Gierlach had nine of his team-high 13 points in the first half. The Tigers led by as many as five points in the second half, holding a 36-31 lead in the final 13 minutes.

The Modesto defense keyed a 15-5 run, started by a Jefferson fast-break basket, fueled by two 3-pointers from Jones and concluded by two more scores in transition, to grab a 46-41 lead with 5:40 remaining.

Occidental briefly cut MJC's lead back to three points on two occasions, but a 19-point second half was the Tigers' undoing.

"I was pretty hard on them after our loss to Merritt last night," Brogan said. "I'm not trying to ruin their confidence, but there were things I thought they needed to hear.

"We just have to move forward and learn from this tournament, and we get to wake up early tomorrow morning."

Merritt went on a 21-1 run over a span of 9:32 to take a 28-8 lead over Columbia midway through the first half.

The Claim Jumpers (3-3) pecked away at the lead throughout the second half, and when Robert Cendro hit back-to-back 3-pointers and assisted on another basket, Columbia was within 70-68 with 1:25 left. Cendro finished with 18 points.

It was the first of three occasions the Jumpers would have the game down to one possession, but all three times Merritt was able to answer with a score.