San Joaquin Memorial forgets about a poor showing from a weekend tournament in Las Vegas before Christmas by winning one in Modesto after Christmas. The Panthers also avenge two of their four losses, including one against host Modesto Christian in tourney championship. Clovis West of Fresno also makes the CIF Central Section look good with a win in third-place game.
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You probably wouldn’t find too many people who’d say they had more fun on a weekend in Modesto than one in Las Vegas, but it’s a good bet that the boys basketball team from San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno would say Modesto after what happened to them at two holiday tournaments.
SJM, which was No. 19 in the preseason state rankings, knocked off preseason No. 6 Modesto Christian 73-64 in Saturday’s title game at the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop Classic. The host Crusaders, like the Panthers, also lost at the Clovis West Nike Invitational but were 9-1 entering the game.
The two teams had played in the third-place game of that tourney with Modesto Christian winning 89-72. This time, the Panthers (10-4) had to erase a 32-27 halftime deficit and improved to 9-4.
An even more important avenging win for San Joaquin Memorial probably came on Friday night at the Modesto Christian tourney when the Panthers beat Clovis West (the team that had won that earlier tourney and was 14-1 overall) in the semifinals 71-66. That earlier loss at the Clovis West Nike Invitational was followed by the trip to the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas where SJM lost its first two games before coming back for two wins.
None of that team positioning, however, was why the gym at Modesto Christian was packed wall-to-wall for the game against San Joaquin Memorial. Most came to check out Panthers’ sophomore sensation Jalen Green, who erupted for 46 points in that win against Clovis West.
On this night, Green was the focus of the Crusaders’ defense, which created openings for other teammates, especially Lunden Taylor in the first half (19 points) and Jonah Geron (13 points) in the second half. Still, Green had many moments of captivating play, resembling a track star with his quick, long strides and track-style short shorts.
Green’s biggest moment came seconds before the third quarter buzzer. Modesto Christian was still clinging to a one-point lead, Green tried to create some room for three-pointer and fired away. In the time it took for him to release the shot and then for the ball to bounce off the rim, the fleet-footed sophomore was already in position to tip-in in his own missed shot. The Panthers took a 46-45 lead into the fourth quarter and used the momentum of play to pull further in front.
“My mom has always said to follow the shot,” said Green, who finished with a game-high 26 points and also was credited with 10 rebounds and two blocks. “That’s all I did.”
San Joaquin Memorial head coach Brad Roznovsky agreed that the tip-in was a momentum changer and added that there was nothing magical that happened in between the team’s two tournament trips to Las Vegas and Modesto.
“It was just a matter of us taking a deep look into ourselves and playing better,” he said. “Lunden played the first half with a lot of heart. And when our other guards get going, we’re good.”
Green, who many analysts rank as the No. 1 sophomore in California (especially after Hayward Moreau Catholic’s Kyree Walker left for an out-of-state prep school), said most of the improvement came defensively.
“We played no defense (in Las Vegas) and it was something that had been lacking,” he said. “Tonight, we played more together as a team.”
Modesto Christian (9-2) forged its first-half lead primarily on the bruising play of 6-foot-6 junior Aaron Murphy, who had 12 points in the first half and finished with 18. Sophomore guard Mike Pearson added 13 points.
The Crusaders didn’t have 6-foot-8 senior Tsotne Tsardsidse in the second half after he turned an ankle in the first half. He has been a key defender early this season and he was a starter last season as well.
With Tsardsidse in the lineup as well plus the addition of key transfer Junior Ballard (a 25 ppg scorer last season at Lathrop who becomes eligible next week), anyone who thinks Modesto Christian still isn’t a threat for the Northern California Open Division title after this loss should get their head examined.
Taylor had five more points in the second half and finished with 24 to give him and Green a combined total of 50.
Roznovsky may get another player back as well. That would be 6-foot-6 scoring machine Dameane Douglas, who’s been out with a knee injury since the first Clovis West game. He said Douglas will have an MRI next week and “we’ll see where we go from there.”
If San Joaquin Memorial ends up with a resume at the end of the season strong enough for an Open Division bid, it’s likely the team would be placed in the Southern California bracket. If it’s not, then because of new competitive equity seeding, the CIF will almost for sure place the Panthers in Division I and that could even be in the north.
In other Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop Classic Saturday games:
Clovis West (Fresno) 80, Tracy 56
The Golden Eagles (14-2), who were ranked No. 1 in the CIF Central Section coming into the week, steadily pulled away from the Bulldogs. They led 39-29 at halftime and had the lead up to 58-41 after three quarters.
Freshman guard Cole Anderson displayed a deft touch from beyond the 3-point line and solid leadership skills despite his age. Anderson, who is the younger brother of graduated Clovis West girls standout Megan Anderson, led all scorers with 25 points.
Tracy, which lost to Modesto Christian in the semifinals, fell to 8-2.
Campolindo (Moraga) 82, Lincoln (Stockton) 71
This one was a classic matchup featuring Lincoln’s dominant big man, Cal-bound Andre Kelly, matching up with Campolindo’s sweet-shooting collection of perimeter players.
The Campo guards were red-hot in the second quarter, helping their team pile up a 50-32 lead at halftime. Kelly and the Trojans slowly chipped into that lead after halftime and got it down to 76-71 and with the ball in the fourth quarter. A three-pointer was missed and the Cougars (11-3) made their free throws to expand the final margin.
Kelly wound up with 39 points for Lincoln but no other Trojans were in double-figures. They suffered their first loss of the season in the quarterfinals to Clovis West (and on a shot at the buzzer) and will go into January at 15-2 overall.
Two of those Campo guards, Trevin Kroichick and David Ahazie, popped in 24 and 22 points, respectively.
Ripon 61, Freedom (Oakley) 58
The Indians were one game below .500 entering the event, but probably emerged as the most surprising finisher. They beat two big schools to complete a 3-1 week with a victory over Buchanan of Clovis coming before Saturday’s triumph over Freedom.
Ripon had to rally from a 45-38 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to beat the Falcons, too. They went ahead 59-58 on three-pointer by Adam Wood with 1:15 left in the game. After a Freedom turnover, two free throws by Kyle Sisk increased the lead to 61-58 with 16.8 seconds left. The Falcons then missed two three-point shots that could have tied it up and sent it to overtime.
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