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No. 1 Mater Dei barely escapes against No. 2 JSerra
SANTA ANA – Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight remembers exactly when his boys basketball team last lost a home game.
"Fairfax, Wears' senior year," a stoic McKnight quickly rattled off.
That was a state regional playoff game four years ago. McKnight and the top-ranked Monarchs won't soon forget Friday night's 82-80 victory against No. 2 JSerra, a Trinity League instant classic that went to double overtime at Mater Dei High.
Mater Dei (20-0, 6-0), ranked No. 1 in CIF-SS Division 1AA, extended its overall winning streak to 41 games and league winning streak to 24 games.
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"I felt the league title on the line," Monarchs forward Stanley Johnson said. "I felt our pride on the line. It was pretty nerve-wracking."
Johnson didn't show it. The junior sensation scored eight of his 24 points in the second overtime, converting three layups on an array of spectacular dribble penetrations in the final minutes. It was a dramatic twist from the second half and first overtime when JSerra held Johnson to just five points with constant double teams and a box-and-1 defense.
"They were bringing everybody," Johnson said. "The defender wasn't the problem, it was the help side."
Mater Dei guard Elijah Brown's two free throws with 5.8 seconds remaining in the second overtime gave the Monarchs a four-point advantage and essentially sealed the outcome. Brown finished with 19 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter and overtime periods, but made just 1 of 10 3-pointers.
The Monarchs collectively shot 7 of 26 beyond the arc.
"We made the plays when we had to, but we shouldn't have been in that situation," McKnight lamented. "They played a lot harder than we did. We didn't handle the game very well. We played very passive. We were very selfish at times. It's going to catch up to us real quick here."
It almost did against the Lions (11-6, 2-4), who tied the score with 3.7 seconds left in regulation on a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Rex Pflueger. Mater Dei jumped out to a four-point lead early in the first overtime before its offense stalled. Lions guard Johnnie Vassar tied the score, 70-70, with one of his many acrobatic layups and a free throw.
JSerra forward Jamal Aytes had 21 points, Vassar had 19 and forward Dylan Osetkowski had 15, including eight in the fourth quarter. The Lions held a 43-30 advantage in rebounds but could not match Mater Dei's depth, as nine Monarchs scored.
“We were sleepwalking the whole time,” Johnson said. “It was a disappointing win. That was the worst game we’ve played this season."
At the very least, it was the closest. Mater Dei came in having won all but two of its games this season by double digits, the tightest being a six-point victory at JSerra two weeks ago. The Lions have not beaten the Monarchs in the program’s nine-year existence.
“We’re getting closer and closer and closer,” JSerra coach Joedy Gardner said. “It shows that we can play with anybody. I'm proud of our guys for how hard they listened and executed. Our guys are not afraid to play against Mater Dei. We have a lot of respect for Coach McKnight and their program. We’re trying to get to that level.”
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