In retrospect, senior Alex Long’s three-point attempt early in the second quarter of Monday’s Maryland Private School championship wasn’t the best option for Riverdale Baptist. Long had made just four threes all season and with forwards Chinanu Onuaku and Taron Oliver on the bench in foul trouble, the Crusaders lacked the inside presence to corral a rebound.
While the Crusaders could have panicked without their twin towers, the situation invoked confidence in Long, who drained the three as part of a 10-point second quarter and 21-point performance that sparked No. 9 Riverdale Baptist to a 71-66 win against No. 5 Clinton Christian in Hyattsville. The victory avenged the Crusaders’ loss to the Eagles two weeks earlier in the Capital Beltway championship.
“Chinanu is such a dominant force inside, so we lose a lot when he’s not out there,” said Long, who added 10 rebounds. “So I took it upon myself to step up my game and get us going.”
Prior to Long’s three, the Eagles had grabbed early control with balanced uptempo play, reeling off seven straight points to take a 19-13 lead.
When Onuaku was whistled for his second foul, Long picked up his aggression on the offensive end. Behind an array of short jumpers and strong moves into the lane, the senior forward scored six of the Crusaders’ eight points to trim their halftime deficit to two.
The momentum carried over into the second half, as Riverdale clamped down defensively on guards Jon Davis and Byron Hawkins. After allowing them open looks and lanes to the basket early on, the Crusaders (30-9) swarmed the duo along the perimeter, holding them to 14 combined points in the second half.
“I just reminded the guys at halftime about the fundamentals we always talk about and staying connected defensively to slow down Davis and Hawkins,” Crusaders Coach Lou Wilson said. “After that, we just came out and took it to them.”
With their lineup back on the floor and Dequan Abrom (14 points) hot from the outside, the Crusaders began the second half with a 13-5 run, building a lead they did not relinquish.
Allante Holston worked to keep Clinton Christian (22-9) in striking distance, taking advantage of the attention focused on Davis and Hawkins to score 13 of his 18 points in the second half.
After a Hawkins three-point play cut the Crusaders’ lead to 59-57 with two minutes remaining, the Eagles began fouling. Unfazed, Onuaku made 7 of 8 free throws to seal most valuable player honors and carry the Crusaders to their third win over Clinton Christian in four meetings this season.
“We just kept fighting the whole game as a team and it paid off,” said Onuaku, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds. “We were still hurting from that last loss to Clinton Christian, so this is a great way to end the season.”