The 2017 men’s basketball CIF-Southern Section Open Division semifinals was a night fans and players alike will remember for years. As over 10,000 people packed into the sold out Galen Center at USC, all were in store for two action-packed, thrilling high school basketball games.
Bishop Montgomery v. Sierra Canyon
Entering Friday night’s first CIF Open semifinal, Sierra Canyon was favored by many to potentially prevail as CIF champs, come the next week. Bishop Montgomery clearly had other plans. Montgomery got off to a fast start and never looked back, defeating Sierra Canyon by a final score of 70-63.
Ethan Thompson led Bishop Montgomery with 21 points, while Jordan Schakel (20 points) and David Singleton (11 points) were also major contributors. Thompson discussed how experience played a role in his team’s success on Friday night, saying, “this year we have all five returning starters, so that just shows what experience does.”
Montgomery head coach, Doug Mitchell, was ecstatic about the way his team played. “I think the guys really followed the game plan,” he said. “We’ve played for this moment all year.”
Marvin Bagley III starred for Sierra Canyon, scoring 28 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. After the loss, he said, “I took the shots my coach allowed me to take, and they went in.” He added, “It was just how the game was flowing at the moment, and I felt like I needed to take those shots.”
Out of the gates, Bishop Montgomery seemed to be on a mission, opening the contest on a 20-4 run. Sierra Canyon recovered the best they could from Montgomery’s initial flurry, but still found themselves down 25-13 by the end of the first quarter.
Sierra Canyon looked to push the pace early and often during the second quarter, but their two main stars, Cody Riley (who finished with just 5 points) and Bagley struggled mightily. Bishop Montgomery continued to dominate with Thompson torching defenders, and carried a seven-point lead into halftime.
To start the second half, Bagley finally got into a nice groove and Sierra Canyon went on several runs.
The final quarter of play saw Bagley really start to come alive for Sierra Canyon, and the teams were trading baskets. Montgomery’s Schakel began to extend his team’s advantage, hitting several 3’s in a row.
Leading 60-53 with just under two minutes remaining, Thompson electrified the Galen Center crowd with a euro step to get to the hoop, and that single play seemed to give Montgomery a key advantage in momentum for the rest of the game.
Chino Hills vs. Mater Dei
“Well, there is this guy called Ball,” a fan commented in jest outside the stadium when asked what he was excited for at the event.
Many fans came to the CIF-SS semifinals to see the most well-known basketball team in the country, Chino Hills and the famed Ball brothers dominate against Mater Dei. Sophomore LaMelo Ball made waves throughout the sports world recently after scoring 92 points in one game, only 9 points away from the national high school record.
However on Friday night, LaMelo didn’t find the same success. The Mater Dei Monarchs defeated Chino Hills in an overtime thriller, 83-80. Senior forward Justice Sueing led the Monarchs with 25 points, and 7-foot-2 big man Bol Bol snatched 15 rebounds to go along with 14 points.
“Heading into the overtime, we sat there and looked at each other and said we want this, we want this bad, so let’s go do it,” Mater Dei guard Spencer Freedman (17 points) said. “We stayed the course and maintained focus, it worked out for us in the end.”
Chino Hills was led by LaMelo Ball (28 points) and his brother, UCLA commit LiAngelo Ball, who poured in 26.
Going into the fourth quarter, Chino had salvaged a five-point lead however Mater Dei went on an impressive run to make it a two-point contest. With both teams attacking the rim and trading baskets, Chino’s Ofure Ujadughele (14 points) knocked in back-to-back 3’s to pad his team’s lead up to six. Mater Dei was able to respond by stringing together stops on the defensive end and then converting them to points on the other end. Tied at 72 and with possession, Chino Hills chose to hold the ball for the last shot in the final seconds of regulation, and a missed three on the part of LaMelo Ball, which meant overtime.
From the start of overtime, Mater Dei jumped out quick and seized the opportunity of getting a few more minutes on the floor. After scoring the first few baskets of the period, Bol Bol rejected a LaMelo Ball layup attempt, which shifted all momentum in Mater Dei’s favor. Chino Hills fired back at the monarchs by stringing together several key baskets by the Ball brothers, as well as Onyeka Okongwu (5 points). Tied at 79, Sueing drove to the basket for Mater Dei, drew the foul, and then iced two key free throws. After Chino shooting one of two at the free-throw line, Freedman nailed two free throws of his own to seal the win for Mater Dei.
Mater Dei head coach, Gary McKnight, was pleased with his team’s performance but is also preparing for the Open Division championship game, which will be played next Saturday night at the Honda Center.
“It was a good win tonight, we’ve had some tough losses but also some good wins against them.” He added, “This wasn’t the championship game, that will be next Saturday.”
Mater Dei and Bishop Montgomery will face off in the CIF SS Open Division Finals next Saturday, March 4, at the Honda Center.