Stanley Johnson and Aaron Gordon both put on a show in first CIF Open Division state final. Johnson’s 26 points leads SoCal team to victory, making coach Gary McKnight’s program the first to win three straight state titles in the top division.
By Mark Tennis & Ronnie Flores
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The road to California’s first CIF Open Division championship in boys basketball had several twists and turns, but the outcome ended up just like it did for the last two Division I titles.
Bouyed by a statement performance from 6-foot-5 junior Stanley Johnson, Mater Dei of Santa Ana cranked up its offense and defense in the second half and pulled away from Archbishop Mitty of San Jose 50-45 on Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
In winning, Mater Dei becomes the first boys team in the state to win CIF state titles for three years in a row in the top division. Mater Dei also made it 3-0 against Mitty in state finals since 2007.
Johnson and Mitty senior Aaron Gordon, who already has been chosen the Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball Player of the Year from last season, were matched up one-on-one for much of the evening.
And even though Johnson’s supporting cast was clearly stronger, the big-time junior out-dueled Gordon offensively, finishing with 26 points, 12 rebounds and four steals. Gordon was the game’s leading rebounder with 20 and also topped Mitty in scoring with 22 points.
“With three championships in a row, he right up there (as the best player I’ve ever coached),” said Mater Dei head coach Gary McKnight, who improved his all-tme state best total of winning state titles to 10. “Let’s give him one more year, he’s not going hardship. My all-time favorite player is Clay (his son), that’s what my wife says.”
“Gusty performance (by Aaron),” said Mitty head coach Tim Kennedy. “He’s pushed and held on nearly every play. He wills us to have a chance to be in the game. It hasn’t really set in yet, we just came up short. I tip my hat to Mater Dei; they played a heck of a game. It starts with Stanley Johnson, he can stretch the defense. He’s such a tough cover.”
Mitty scored the first six points of the game, but Mitty came back on a pair of 3-pointers by Johnson and Elijah Brown and led 11-10 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Johnson and Gordon traded baskets just before halftime, but for the most part Mitty’s offense was shut down by the Mater Dei defense. Mater Dei’s biggest lead in the first half was 20-14.
Mater Dei and Johnson took control of the game late in the third quarter. He scored nine of his team’s 11 points in a 11-1 run that gave Mater Dei a 38-30 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“Aaron Gordon is around the rim a lot, but with me it’s different,” Johnson said. “If they would have brought guys at me, I would go to the outside. Eventually I would cut and get an easy basket, so it’s not the same (as us guarding Aaron).”
James McGee came off the bench for Mater Dei at the start of the fourth quarter and connected on a pair of 3-pointers that extended the lead to 44-32. The closest Mitty came after that was five points at 48-43 on a 3-pointer by Gordon with 33.3 seconds left.
“(Stanley) just loves the competition, but he told us how good Aaron Gordon is and he has a lot of respect for Aaron,” McKnight said. “Stanley kept us in it until others started contributing.”
Mater Dei’s Brown didn’t shoot well, but made his free throws and was the only other player in the game in double figures with 11 points.
“I’m the best player in the state because of the winning,” Johnson said. “Aaron dunks and is great. Isaac Hamilton (St. John Bosco) scores. But I win.”
Schools With Most CIF Basketball Titles
(Boys, Girls Combined)
10 – Mater Dei boys (Santa Ana) 1987-2012
9 – Brea Olinda girls (Brea) 1989-2009
8 – Crenshaw boys (Los Angeles)
7 – St. Mary’s girls (Stockton) 2002-2011
6 – Bishop Montgomery girls (Torrance) 1996-2003
6 – Dominguez boys (Compton) 1996-2004
6 – Price boys (Los Angeles) 2000-2010
6 – Westchester boys (Los Angeles) 1998-2010
Note: Mater Dei’s win improved Southern California’s record in this year’s CIF state championships to 5-1. The South’s four other winners were Horizon (D5), Pacific Hills (D4), St. Augustine (D3), and Redondo (D2). NorCal’s only winner was Pleasant Grove (D1).
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