SAN FRANCISCO — It was the heart and hustle, as Brian Carson described it, the key elements of his first West Catholic Athletic League victory as Serra’s head coach.
A borderline technical foul against Archbishop Riordan late in the fourth quarter certainly didn’t hurt.
When the dust settled after a wild WCAL opener, the Serra Padres (1-0 WCAL, 9-2 overall) came away with a stunning 50-48 victory over Riordan. The Crusaders (0-1, 9-2) had a chance to win it with a 3-point look in the closing seconds, but the shot was offline, allowing Serra’s 5-8 guard Dimitri Koutsogeorgas to channel his inner Charles Barkley and run down the long rebound to seal the upset.
“I felt good when I came up with it because I knew I just had to outwork my defender to get to it,” Koutsogeorgas said. “That’s all that matters. Like Charles Barkley once said: ‘You gotta want to get the ball.’ So, that’s what was going through my head.”
Riordan’s extraordinary height — highlighted by 6-8 senior forward Chan Ngot and 7-1 sophomore center Mor Seck — had all the makings of a lopsided night in the post. Lopsided it was, only it was Serra that dominated the boards, outrebounding Riordan 36-24 throughout.
Seck was held to nine points and a team-high six rebounds, but his monster dunk in transition with 2:54 remaining in regulation gave Riordan its first lead since the game’s opening minutes at 46-44. It also capped a 14-3 run by the Crusaders. The dunk came at a cost, however, as Seck was levied with a technical foul for hanging on the rim.
“I think it was not necessary,” Riordan head coach Joe Curtin said of the technical call. “It wasn’t egregious. It was a tight game. It was the crunch time of a game. That’s my opinion of that.”
The Padres seized on the two free throws plus possession by producing a 4-point swing. They tied it back up when senior Antonio Abeyta hit both free throws. Then Serra retook the lead 48-46 on a baseline drive by senior guard Ryan Wilson.
“It gave us a little bit of momentum,” Carson said of the technical. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t even see what happened. I kind of turned my head and was looking to run something on offense. But it gave us 2 points and it stopped their run. They were on a run right there. Those 2 points were big, and it gave us confidence on the offensive end because we were struggling a little bit right there.”
Riordan was also handicapped by the first-quarter absence of guard Jelani Clark. Even with Seck’s show-time dunking abilities, Clark was the most dynamic player on the court Saturday. Curtin declined comment as to why Clark did not start the game.
Serra jumped out to an early 15-8 lead spurred by three 3s in the first quarter from Wilson, Koutsogeorgas and Abeyta. But Riordan went on a late run to close it to 15-14 going into the second quarter.
Clark peppered the cylinder with two 3s in the second quarter, and knocked down four 3s throughout to score 16 points. His speedy counterpart, senior guard Bryce Monroe, scored a game-high 17 points.
Serra, though, set out to counter Riordan’s speed with a sound strategy.
“We started off with running the ball screens and we wanted to get the rolls,” Carson said. “And we were hitting those early off the swing, getting it to our bigs. Then they kind of adjusted to it. Then we ended up going speed. … So we ended up beating speed with speed, really.”
Serra added to a 26-22 halftime lead by opening the second half on a 9-2 run.
Padres forward Julius Alcantara caught fire in the third quarter. The senior totaled 11 points and a game-high eight rebounds throughout. Eight of those points came in the third period.
And while Riordan totaled six blocks as a team, Serra saved its one block for down the stretch in the fourth quarter when Alcantara came up with a denial on a Crusaders baseline drive with three minutes to go.
“It felt really good,” Alcantara said. “It was really close. I thought it kind of brought some momentum to us too, so it was a big block.”
In addition to the final rebound by Koutsogeorgas, Abeyta at 5-11 wrestled a late, long rebound as well.
“I think they just played harder,” Curtin said. “They didn’t let us get a chance to run. … They did a really good job of just crashing the glass, getting hands on balls, tipping everything, just getting on the ground. They just did everything that we knew they were going to do and we just didn’t do enough to stop them.”
Wilson paced Serra with 13 points and added seven rebounds.
Serra shot 35.2% from the field, but came up with game-changing drives to the hoop using jump-stops to get Riordan’s bigs off their feet, then generating offense off the ensuing pump fakes to either convert or draw fouls.
“I was harping on jump-stopping all week long,” Carson said. “Because they are a long, they’re going to block shots, they can gamble, they can get steals. So if we jump-stop — ball fake, shot fake — that will neutralize their speed.”
Several Padres players admitted to underdog status heading into the game. It made the victory that much sweeter.
“It means a lot because no one expected us to win,” Alcantara said. “No one even gave us a chance to win because they’re all big. But all our team and all our coaches believe in us. … We earned it. No one expected it, which makes it better.”