Riverdale Baptist trailed by five when Crusaders guard Synia Johnson barged her way into the lane, sidestepped a few defenders and finished a layup that drew hoots and hollers from the home crowd. The junior sprinted back down the court as National Christian looked for a quick basket in response. She made it in time to get a block at the rim, springing the Crusaders for another quick basket in transition.
Johnson’s hustle play seemed to awaken No. 5 Riverdale Baptist, which seemed disjointed and out of sorts for much of the first half Thursday night. The Crusaders started stringing baskets together and clamped down on defense, taking a one-point lead less than a minute following the block. They never trailed again in a 70-56 win.
“We’re trying to eliminate that — coming out slow. We’re trying to play the same way the whole game,” Johnson said. “That was more our basketball [late in the game].”
Riverdale (20-4) has spent much of the winter traveling to the far-flung tournaments and showcases that come with a national profile. But when the Crusaders return home to the D.C. area, they consistently take care of business. They are undefeated against local opponents.
“They don’t want to lose at home, and they don’t want to lose in this area, and I love that they have that kind of pride,” Coach Mike Bozeman said.
The Crusaders’ preferred style, the one that they showed in the late stages of Thursday’s win, is built on defensive aggression and offensive balance. They entered Thursday allowing just 43 points per game and have had 11 games when 10 or more players scored.
“We depend on development,” Bozeman said. “And we want to develop from Player 15 to Player 1.”
Bozeman tightened his rotation for Thursday’s game, and Johnson led the team’s eight scorers with 23 points. The program was coming off a rare loss, to New York’s Long Island Lutheran last weekend, and that fueled its desire to stay perfect at home.
“This is our home territory, and our motto is nobody should beat us at home,” senior guard Kaylah Ivey said. “We have to pick it up every game because everyone gives us their best.”
The No. 8 Eagles (16-6), who also play a national schedule and had only lost to one local opponent before Thursday, are one of the few D.C. area teams that could test the Crusaders.
But they couldn’t stop Riverdale from getting into its transition offense in the second half. National Christian’s opportunities to rally dwindled from there, and by midway through the fourth quarter, the Crusaders held a comfortable double-digit lead.