FAIRFIELD — The “small” guys took down the big guys.
At a severe height disadvantage, the smaller Rodriguez High boys basketball team moved into the championship of its own Holiday Stampede tournament Friday after downing a much taller Riordan squad 68-57.
The victory puts the Mustangs (9-1) in Saturday’s championship game against Damonte Ranch of Reno at 1:30 p.m. Damonte downed San Rafael earlier in the day, 73-61.
Rodriguez’s plan was to have its guards attack the middle of the lane, where Riordan’s Karim Ndiaye, who stands, 6-foot-8 , would be, and it worked. Ndiaye suffered his third foul of the game in the second quarter and really wasn’t a factor until he scored 10 points in the third.
Also getting into foul trouble was the Crusaders’ top scorer Chiefy Ugbaja, who at 6-5 also had three fouls by halftime. Ugbaja scored nine points in the opening eight minutes, but finished with just 15.
“That was tremendous,” Mustangs coach Nate Rankin said of taking the big guys out of the mix early. “We knew that we had a mismatch going into this. Riordan had beat a team that we had lost to, that was St. Joseph’s. They were similar in height. We had to use that to our advantage.
“Our guards kept getting to the rack (and drawing fouls). But the real key for us was really playing good defense. And that was good. I think we had a good team effort. We had rotation, guys that are really coming into it. I’m happy for our guys.”
Complimenting the Mustangs’ attack on Riordan’s big guys was hitting the long ball early and often. Rodriguez had four 3-pointers in the opening quarter – three by Rishod Abraham and one by Kyle Williams, helping grab a 17-13 lead after eight minutes.
“That was huge (hitting all the 3-pointers),” Rankin said. “Early on, that was huge. (Abraham) was hitting the shots. He hit key ones early in the game and they had to make adjustments, so that was huge.”
The Crusaders battle back to tie the score at 19 with 6 minutes, 44 seconds to play in the half, but Rodriguez stayed its ground, eventually taking a 32-28 lead into halftime.
The Mustangs never trailed in the second half.
With the score tied at 34 with 5:45 left in the third, the Mustangs scored 10 of the game’s next 12 points – including two more 3-pointers by Abraham – to take a 44-36 lead. But Riordan hung tough with Ndiaye back in the game.
The center reeled off six straight points and then a basket by Ugbaja knotted the score at 44. Rodriguez then scored the last basket of the period for a 46-44 lead with just eight minutes to play.
Ugbaja opened the final quarter with a two-handed slam, but the Mustangs responded by scoring 13 of the next 18 points for a 59-51 advantage with 1:42 to play. Rodriguez then hit eight of 10 free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
Abraham finished with 26 points to pace the Mustangs, while Armani Reed had 14 points and seven rebounds.
Ndiaye finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds for Riordan.
In Friday morning’s loser’s bracket action, Mt. Diablo beat Benicia 57-54 and Elsie Allen of Santa Rosa topped Wooster of Reno 52-38.
Rankin like the was his team had been adjusting to different team’s styles of play.
“The thing is we’ve been playing guys in each game we’ve played, each team that we meet, it’s always something different,” the coach said. “Our ball club, it may not be the tall teams Rodriguez has had in the past, but our guys can play.”
And they will be playing for the title in their own tournament, Saturday.
Reach Brian Arnold at 427-6969 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/barnolddr.