Akinjo leads Salesian past O’Dowd

Junior guard James Akinjo leads state-ranked Salesian (Richmond) past Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) in double overtime thriller at the Valley Grind Session event in Napa that mostly involved basketball-academy type matchups. 

NAPA, CA – James Akinjo drove the lane, split two defenders and scored on a finger-roll type layup over the front rim at the buzzer to give state No. 16 Salesian (Richmond) a 73-71 double overtime win over Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) on Saturday night at the Tanager Sports Crush in the Valley Grind Session hosted by Prolific Prep at Napa Valley College.

Akinjo, 6-0 junior guard with some solid interest from Arizona State, Colorado, Nevada and Texas A&M, scored 16 of the Pride’s 22 points in overtime after getting eight of 10 points in the first OT and eight of 12 in the second extra period. Besides the game-winning shot, Akinjo also had a basket with 52 seconds left that gave Salesian a 71-69 lead.

Most of the scoring work Akinjo did was after regulation as he finished with 20 points, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer at the end of the first overtime to tie it at 61-61. He also had eight rebounds and two steals.

“Our team is really good but in these situations they look for me to score so I took the challenge and came through, and we got a big ‘W,” Akinjo said.

“James wants the ball in crunch time and he’s not afraid to have the ball in his hands,” Salesian Coach Bill Mellis said. “On that last play you see how he knows how to use his body.”

The game was close throughout regulation with Salesian leading all the way until midway through the third quarter when O’Dowd took its first lead at 28-27. From that point on through regulation play, there were six ties and six lead changes.

Mellis got a solid game from several other players including JoVon McClanahan. The 5-10 sophomore guard finished with 19 points and five rebounds with three steals. Senior forward Cameron Morgan had 12 points (five rebounds) including a basket on a feed from Akinjo with 1:40 left in the second overtime that gave the Pride a 67-66 lead. Junior guard Derrick Langford added 10 points and six rebounds.

Prep2Prep CIF North Coast Section No. 1 Salesian (20-3) has now won 14 straight since a 50-48 loss to Cal-Hi Sports state No. 15 L.A. Westchester at the Las Vegas Tarkanian Classic in late December.

Despite another solid effort against their East Bay Catholic school rivals, O’Dowd (12-8) went down to a two-point defeat to Salesian for the second time this season after a 57-55 defeat at the Tarkanian Classic.

Three players were in double-figure scoring for the Dragons, led by the 16 points each by 6-4 star junior guard Naseem Gaskin and Ross Williams who came off the bench to nail four 3-pointers. B.J. Shaw added 15 points with three 3-pointers including one that reduced the Dragons deficit to 65-64 with 2:15 left in the second overtime.

A player that bothered Salesian was O’Dowd center Raymond Hawkins. The 6-9 sophomore had nine points and 10 rebounds with three blocks coming off the bench.

As for the positives and the negatives of the game Mellis had this to say.

“The positives were every time we found ourselves down in the game and particularly at the end, we made some sort of play that kept us going, and our defense continued to be pretty good. We didn’t play our best defense but we played good enough to come through in key situations.

“The negatives are we settle for 3-pointers too often,” continued Mellis, whose team was 0-for-13 beyond the arc in the first half and missed their first 20 3-pointers before netting three treys on the night. “You saw in this game when we attacked the basket we either scored or got to the foul line.”

Salesian now returns to Tri-County – Rock League action and will gear up for the NCS Division IV playoffs and a possible run at a CIF Northern Regional Open Division title. To go all the way they will likely need to beat a Cal-Hi Sports No. 5 and NorCal No. 1 Woodcreek (Roseville), a team that handed the Pride a 73-45 defeat in the title game of the Gridley Tournament.

O’Dowd just can’t seem to get over the hump in a lot of close games.

“We have a lot of things to fix,” Dragons head coach Lou Richie remarked.

“O’Dowd will gear up for the NCS playoffs by returning this week to West Alameda County – Foothill League play.

Prolific Prep cruises

For the second straight night Crush in the Valley Grind Session, host Prolific Prep (12-1) had an easy time after an 82-57 win over Trinity Prep of Las Vegas.

Only leading 30-26 at the half, Prolific Prep (which is not a CIF member program) used a 20-2 run to start the third quarter to pretty much seal the deal.

After pouring in 33 points on Friday night, Duke-bound Prolific Prep McDonald’s All-American Gary Trent Jr. led the way again with 21 points.

Senior Abu Rigab from Canada had a double-double 16 points and 14 rebounds, as Prolific prep outrebounded Trinity Prep 49-19.

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