San Joaquin Memorial completed its revenge tour on Saturday evening, defeating Modesto Christian in the final of the 18th annual Holiday Hoop Classic.
The Panthers were too much for even the host Crusaders, whose depth and versatility produced runaway victories over the first three nights.
Jalen Green played above the rim, Jonah Geron found his range late, and Lunden Taylor handled all the work in between in a 73-64 win.
The title is San Joaquin Memorial’s first in three visits, and the Panthers took the hardest route possible, avenging losses to state-ranked opponents on consecutive nights. San Joaquin Memorial ousted Clovis West in Friday’s semifinal. The Golden Eagles entered the tournament ranked No. 8 in the state by MaxPreps.
“We knew it would be a dogfight, even when playing Beyer in the first game,” coach Brad Roznovsky said as his team posed with the champion’s trophy. “We’re a little smaller, but we got some kids that have some heart."
Green lived up to the hype, scoring 26 points en route to tournament MVP honors. The No. 1 sophomore recruit in the nation wowed a standing-room-only crowd in the first quarter, splitting a double team and finishing with a two-handed slam above traffic. Later, he followed his own miss — a 3 from the wing — in the final seconds of the third to give San Joaquin Memorial the lead for good, 46-45.
“It’s simple stuff. We hurt ourselves today,” Modesto Christian coach Brice Fantazia said. "We gave up offensive rebounds in clutch situations when we shouldn’t have. We can’t change anything; just have to go back to work."
Geron scored all 13 of his points in the second half, including two 3s in the fourth quarter to put some distance between the Panthers and the Crusaders. The Washington-bound senior's trey with 4:04 left made it 60-52, San Joaquin Memorial’s largest lead to that point.
Taylor joined Green on the all-tournament team. The 6-foot-3 senior proved to be the most versatile player on the floor, playing point guard at one end of the floor and protecting the post at the other. He tallied 19 of his 24 points in the first half, many of them coming off the dribble, and sealed the win from the free-throw line.
“He was big for us tonight,” Roznovsky said.
As Taylor sank the final free throws with 4 seconds left, Roznovsky pumped his fist, showing his approval for the work his team put in over four days in Salida.
Two weeks ago, San Joaquin Memorial (10-4) lost back to back games to Clovis West and Modesto Christian at the Nike Invitational. Since then, the Panthers have won six straight.
“We had back-to-back losses and we were trying to find ourselves,” Roznovsky said. “It was in their heads a couple of weeks ago, but they came up big here. I’m very proud of the guys.”
Modesto Christian (9-2) ran out of gas — and bodies to throw at San Joaquin Memorial.
Starting forward Tsotne Tsardsidse turned his ankle early in the first quarter and didn’t play in the second half. Modesto Christian missed the 6-foot-8 international, a player capable of guarding the post and the perimeter.
“That killed us, especially in matchups like this when they don’t really have a big man,” Fantazia said. “He’s one of our most versatile defenders.”
Modesto Christian got good energy off the bench from senior Gabe Murphy, who had eight points, 13 rebounds and a block, but the burden fell squarely on the shoulders of MC’s starting backcourt: Mike Pearson, Dathan Satchell and Tyler Williams.
For the first time in four nights, the pressure was too much for the triumvirate. Modesto Christian took control of the scoreboard with an 8-2 run to close the first quarter and led 32-27 at the intermission.
“We just ran out of gas today,” Fantazia said. "In the second half guys were dead. … (Satchell), Mike and Tyler were great all tournament, but four games in four days is tough. They were worn out, too, but they got the job done and we didn’t."
Pearson had 13 points, but struggled from beyond the 3-point line.
Williams was held to fewer than 10 points for the first time all tournament. He and Satchell had eight points apiece.
Pearson and Williams were named to the all-tournament team, a small consolation prize for players seeking their place in tournament history. Modesto Christian was gunning for its fifth Holiday Hoop Classic title and second in three years.
“This does nothing to affect us and what we want to accomplish this season,” Fantazia said. “Now we’re at full strength.”
The Crusaders travel to Clovis North on Jan. 4 before resuming Modesto Metro Conference play against Modesto on Jan. 10. Transfers Junior Ballard and Earv Knox are eligible to play after sitting out the first 30 days of the season.