SACRAMENTO – The steep and tall mountain that is the Modesto Christian basketball program – the dominance, the tradition, the jaw-dropping talent – was put on display at Golden 1 Center on Saturday night.
The Sac-Joaquin Section once again received an all-business message from the Crusaders – scaling this mountain never will be easy.
Modesto Christian, its entire machine working in top order, dismissed a good Jesuit team 79-53 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I boys title game. The Crusaders (26-6) clinched their second straight title and their section-leading 21st blue banner. Only Matre Dei with 24 has won more in California.
“We’re peaking right now,” MC coach Brice Fantazia said during the post-game press conference while he was surrounded by his team. “We were determined to win…It’s kind of what we do.”
That may explain the Crusaders’ been-there-done-that reaction on the arena floor before they shook hands with the Marauders (26-5).
MC checked every box this night: BJ Davis with his 27 points to outshine McDonald’s All-American Andrej Stojakovic, 19 points by backcourt mate Jalen Brown, and a hard-to-believe 47-15 rebounding cushion featuring 6-foot-10 post Prince Oseya with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
Jesuit opened with a 7-3 lead before the Crusaders responded with a 16-0 hammer-blow. Brown accounted for eight points until the run was capped by basketball’s version of a grand slam, only bigger. Davis, bound for San Diego State, totaled a virtual 6-point play.
Davis drove and finished with a spin off the glass, missed the free throw but MC rebounded. Seconds later, he was fouled as he buried a triple from the baseline and converted from the line.
Suddenly, it was 19-7 early in the second quarter. Jesuit was not within eight points again.
“I feel when we’re locked in, there’s nothing we can’t do,” Davis said. “I have as much confidence in myself as I have in my teammates. I envisioned this.”
Jesuit, the No. 4 seed, was helpless to curb MC’s resounding power near the rim. The Crusaders scored 16 points on tip-ins or other offensive rebounds. Oseya, the linchin of that effort, punctuated the night with two slam-dunks in the final minutes. He even was honored postgame by The Pursuing Victory With Honor Award.
Oseya was assisted underneath by 6-6 Kodey Weary, who accounted for eight points and six rebounds before he fouled out. Weary wasn’t declared eligible by the section until the semifinals.
On top, Davis and Brown took turns breaking down the Jesuit defense with determined drives, spin moves and deft finishes. If they didn’t score from down low, they drew fouls.
MC’s lead reached 21 points early in the fourth quarter as many fans put on their coats and trudged up the stairs. The predictably partisan Jesuit crowd, including a huge student section, watched in silence most of the game as Modesto Christian dictated the terms.
The Crusaders’ relentless defense early in the game against the 6-7 Stojakovic was a harbinger. Football star Jeremiah Bernard drew the demanding task as the primary defender against the Stanford commit. Bernard’s teammates were quick to help, however, and Stojakovic often was bumped and harassed on the way to the hoop.
He seemed to press early in the game and did not score from the floor until deep into the second quarter. To be fair, he was watched from courtside seats by his father Peja Stojakovic and two of his pals Vlade Divac and Bobby Jackson from the Sacramento Kings’ glory days.
Much of the crowd, in fact, came to see Peja’s heralded son in a championship game. The senior responded with 6-of-18 shooting for 17 points (eight in the fourth quarter), two points off his season average. The Crusaders had to avoid a big night from Stojackovic. They succeeded.
“I used my physicality,” Bernard said. “My football background helped.” Fantazia backed him with one phrase: "Best defender in Northern California."
Much was made of Modesto Christian’s curious No. 3 seed, but the Crusaders have been underseeded by the section committee for years. Its answer continues to be emphatic – four section titles since the Crusaders became a regular Division I entry in 2016.
Fantazia even came to the committee’s defense by stating he’s never seen as stacked a D-1 bracket as this year. “Someone was going to get mad,” he said.
MC hinted at what was ahead during Wednesday night’s semifinals when it walked into a packed house at Inderkum and exited with a 72-50 win. Nothing much changed against Jesuit.
Fantazia saved his emotion for two other factors: 1. How Modesto Christian overcame the in-season loss of Arizona-bound senior Jamari Phillips and rugged forward Manasse Itete; and 2. Where the Crusaders should be seeded in the Northern California Regionals.
“They just put their heads down and said, ‘We’ll win anyway,’” he said.
Fantazia then drew attention to its NorCal seeding in the Open division to be announced Sunday. Simply, he believes his team should be seeded No. 1, and he has a point. The Crusaders, ranked No. 7 in the state, have not lost to a section or NorCal opponent this season.
“We deserve the No. 1 seed,” he said. “With the schedule we play, nobody in Northern California has played a schedule like ours.”
Right now, there is no other argument. The Crusaders' mountain is larger than the rest.