By Jeremy Balan
University High School junior forward Ned Tannenbaum was held scoreless for the first 31 minutes of the visiting Red Devils’ CIF Division V State Championship Tournament quarterfinal matchup against defending champion St. Joseph Notre Dame of Alameda on Saturday night.
In the final minute of regulation, however, Tannenbaum hit what may have been the two biggest shots of his life.
The first came on a driving layup with 40 seconds remaining, to put University up 50-49.
Then, after SJND’s Kyle Collins put the Pilots up 52-50 with two free throws, Tannenbaum hit an almost identical left-handed layup with 2 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.
“In our league, everyone knows I’m left-handed, but here not many people know,” Tannenbaum said. “They had Noah [Springwater] and Zio [Enriquez] covered. I was lucky enough to be there.”
In overtime, the Red Devils (28-7) jumped out to a 59-54 lead and withstood a late SJND rally to win 60-58 and earn a trip to the Northern California championship game on Saturday at Folsom High School.
Despite an uncharacteristically bad shooting night, specifically in the first half, University was still able to pull out the victory.
“We didn’t shoot well, but we believe there are habits of champions, defense, rebounding, moving the ball, that allow us to win even when we don’t shoot that well,” said University Head Coach Randal Bessolo
Tannenbaum may have had the most dramatic points of the game, but senior guard Zach Karrasch carried University through most of the fourth quarter, helping erase a nine-point deficit with nine points in the frame.
“It was a mind-set,” Karrasch said. “It just clicked. This could be my last game. I had to take the [opportunity].”
Karrasch had a team-high 17 points on the night, on hard driving layups and a 9-of-11 night from the free throw line.
“Zach is a warrior,” Bessolo said. “He made the most of his touches, attacked and converted. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Free throws may have been the difference, as Karrasch and the Red Devils converted 16-of-23 attempts, while the Pilots (26-9) struggled mightily, converting only 4-of-16 attempts from the charity stripe, including 3-of-9 in the fourth quarter and 0-of-4 in overtime.
“When you want to win a big game there are three things you have to do: make your free throws, make your layups and you have to work harder than the other team,” said SJND Head Coach Don Lippi. “[Missing the free throws] was huge in a two-point ballgame, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying.”
SJND was led offensively by 6-foot-10-inch junior forward Brendan Keane, who had a game-high 18 points despite missing most of the second quarter due to foul trouble.
Tannenbaum, listed at 6 feet 2 inches tall, also had the chore of guarding Keane.
“[Keane] probably weighs twice as much as him, but I don’t think anyone has as much heart as Ned and it really showed, certainly on the defensive end,” Bessolo said.
Although University was a considerable underdog playing on the Pilots’ home court, the Red Devils’ knocked off SJND in the first game of the season on Nov. 28 and used the confidence gained in that game to their advantage.
“In the first game of the season, we just surprised them,” Bessolo said. “That had an impact on this game, because there was no way we were going to surprise them this time. We knew we could win, so even when we were down, we kept believing we were going to win the game.”
With the win, University advances to face top-seeded Branson School of Ross in the Northern California title game.
Branson (24-6) knocked University out of the CIF-North Coast Section playoff semifinals in a 41-40 overtime thriller on March 3 and the Red Devils are looking for a bit of redemption.
“I want them,” Karrasch said. “It’s going to be a good game. We’ve been looking forward to playing them again.”
University is playing in its first Northern California title game since 2002, which is also the year of its last regional title.
Additional reporting by Mike Bebernes.