By Jeremy Balan
In many ways, the Riordan boys basketball team came to fruition on Thursday night at Crusader Forum, but it still wasn’t enough to beat two-time defending state champion Mitty.
After Mitty scored on its first possession, the Crusaders led for most of the game, but succumbed to Aaron Gordon and the Monarchs in a 57-52 West Catholic Athletic League loss.
Gordon, the seventh-ranked recruit in the country according to ESPN.com, scored 10 of his team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter to help erase a seven-point Riordan lead early in the frame and nearly outrebounded the Crusaders by himself (he had 23 boards, while Riordan collectively had 25).
Gordon gave the Monarchs (10-3, 4-0) their first lead of the second half at 47-46 with a leaning jump shot in the lane with 4:10 remaining to cap a 9-1 Mitty run, but the lead exchanged hands two more times before the final buzzer and the Crusaders (10-4, 1-3) had more than ample opportunities to win late.
On their final possession, trailing 55-52 with 19 seconds left, Riordan point guard Geru Mabrey drove to his left and got to the basket, but missed a layup. A scrum for the ball ensued, and a Mitty player eventually flipped the ball to Gordon all alone on the Riordan end of the floor. The 6-foot-8 senior took his time and unleashed a right-handed windmill dunk to punctuate the victory.
“We definitely felt that was one we should have had there,” said Riordan head coach Rich Buckner. “A couple calls, a couple missed shots and one superstar can do that to you. They’re a great team and you have to be on your A game – 100 percent sharp in all aspects – to beat this team.”
Before the fourth quarter, it appeared the Crusaders had the formula to limit Gordon.
Riordan’s defensive rotation of forwards Graham Gilleran, Zach Masoli and Chiefy Ugbaja denied Gordon the ball inside for most of the game and held him to just one made field goal through three quarters, but each had foul trouble throughout.
“They battled to the end. Their jerseys are drenched in there,” Buckner said of the three forwards. “They battled their asses off and the coaching staff is proud of them.”
Even though the Crusaders led for most of the game, they never pulled away, despite Mitty’s relatively poor play in the first half. Riordan only led 25-23 after the first half almost entirely because of a transcendent performance from junior shooting guard Frankie Ferrari.
In a span of just under six minutes during the first and second quarters, Ferrari hit five straight shots (four from 3-point range, many while falling away) and finished with 16 points in the first half. Ferrari’s streak was so impactful that the Monarchs shifted Gordon to guard the 5-foot-11 junior on the perimeter.
“He was shooting that thing from deep,” Buckner said. “We’ve had a couple of shooters [at Riordan] – my man Dorian Manigo, when I played, and Ivan Dorsey a few years ago – but that’s why we’re so happy to have [Ferrari], because a three-pointer is such a game-changer.”
But even with the barrage from Ferrari, who finished with a team-high 19 points, the Monarchs felt fortunate to be only trailing by two points at the break.
“We definitely didn’t play to the best of our ability in the [first half], so to just be in striking distance — we got away with one in the first half,” said Mitty head coach Tim Kennedy.
Ferrari went cold in the second half, but other Riordan shooters picked up the slack. Junior Bobby Arenas went on a shooting run of his own in the second half, hitting 4-of-7 field goal attempts after the halftime break (including 2-of-3 from three-point range). Mabrey also hit a pair of jumpers in the second half and the two guards finished with 12 points apiece.
Ugbaja was the only other Riordan player to score more than two points, however, and the 6-foot-3 junior had five points in the fourth quarter, including a two-handed dunk to tie the game at 52-52 with 1:52 remaining.
The Crusaders may have gone toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the state, but Buckner, as well as the Riordan fans in attendance, took issue with the officiating throughout the game. The Crusaders were signaled for 22 fouls, while the Monarchs had 11 called against them, and the disparity was illustrated greatest at the free-throw line. Riordan made 5-of-7 attempts from the line, while the Monarchs knocked down 19-of-31. Gordon made 11-of-21 on his own, tripling the Crusaders’ collective attempts.
“It is what it is. You guys can write about what you saw,” Buckner said. “What we tried to tell those guys in the locker room was, don’t blame it on [the referees]. Look yourself in the mirror – that’s the sign of a man – and go home and judge yourself. Don’t put it on the referees. Don’t put it on anyone else.”
Aaron Gordon – 19
Connor Peterson – 14
Brandon Farrell – 10
Brandon Abajelo – 5
Two players tied with 2 points
Frankie Ferrari – 19
Bobby Arenas – 12
Geru Mabrey – 12
Chiefy Ugbaja – 7
Zach Masoli – 2