By Jeremy Balan
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO – St. Ignatius forward Julian Marcu plays bigger than his 6-foot-1 height — literally and figuratively.
Without the 210-pound junior, the St. Ignatius boys basketball team might not even have a winning record, and he was the reason they won on Thursday night at El Camino.
Marcu had a game-high 21 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in a 50-46 non-league win over El Camino, avenging the Wildcats’ loss to the Colts last season in the Central Coast Section Division III semifinals.
“When Stephen [Domingo] left [for Georgetown], the juniors knew they had to step up,” Marcu said. “I always try to play bigger and more physical. You gotta box out.”
Eight of Marcu’s points came in a crucial fourth quarter, which started with the Wildcats (6-1) trailing 35-33. He scored off an offensive rebound to give St. Ignatius its first lead of the second half at 40-39 with 4:22 remaining, assisted on the next score to extend the lead, then sunk two free throws with 3 seconds remaining to push the advantage to two possessions and seal the game.
“He wants it and we want him to get it,” said St. Ignatius head coach Tim Reardon. “When the other team is in foul trouble, teams are afraid to help and you need to help to guard him.”
The Wildcats also made a significant stand defensively in the fourth quarter and at crucial moments. Senior guard Albert Waters had four of his game-high five steals in the fourth, point guard Trevor Dunbar forced a five-second violation on El Camino standout point guard Elijah White and Marcu took a charge on El Camino’s Michael Smith with 2:38 remaining and the Wildcats clinging to a 44-42 lead.
“We haven’t even practiced offense since the Lincoln game,” Reardon said. “We’ve had four two-hour practices of just defense catered to Elijah — and Trevor did an unbelievable job on him in the second half — and we had guys just trailing Michael all over the floor.”
White and Smith — who entered the game leading the CCS in scoring at 23.7 points per game — scored 18 and 17 points, respectively, but the rest of the Colts (5-2) combined to score just two points in the second half. Of the 25 shots from the field El Camino took in the second half, 18 came from Smith and White.
“They took a lot of shots, but the other people on the court weren’t stepping up and saying that wasn’t what we were supposed to be doing,” said El Camino head coach Archie Junio. “It was succumbing to two people and changing the aspect from five on five to two on five.”
Unbalanced as the El Camino offense was, Smith and White did just enough to keep the Colts close in the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats always had an answer.
White hit a three-pointer to knot the game up at 42-42, then Dunbar — who struggled shooting and went scoreless in the first half, but scored seven points in the second — hit a jump shot on the next possession. When White made a block on another Dunbar jumper with just over a minute left, Waters was there to almost immediately steal the ball away.
Still, St. Ignatius almost gave the game away late.
The first misstep came from Reardon, who was given a technical foul while vehemently contesting an official’s call with 1:59 remaining. Reardon was restrained by players and admitted after the game that he had lost his composure. Smith knocked down both technical free throws to cut the St. Ignatius lead to 46-44.
“I thought I lost the game for us,” Reardon said. “I didn’t think I would get it because I turned away. At first, when he made the call, I was so flabbergasted, I kinda lost it. They sucked it up, though. It’s easy for a team to fold when they could blame their coach for a loss.”
The second misstep was a shot-clock violation immediately following a St. Ignatius timeout that gave the ball back to the Colts with 15 seconds remaining, only trailing 48-46. But White’s three-pointer from the left-hand corner with 5 seconds left clanked off the rim and Marcu brought down his final rebound.
“It’s good to get in close games in the preseason,” Reardon said. “You know, if you’re playing well, that you’re going to be in close games in the [West Catholic Athletic League]. If you’re not playing well, they will not be close.”
Julian Marcu – 21
Matt Brown – 9
Trevor Dunbar – 7
Albert Waters – 4
Daniel MacLean-Vernic – 3
Elijah White – 18
Michael Smith – 17
Tajah Childs – 7
Anthony Hines – 2
Blake Turner – 2