Panthers lose to Oakland in final seconds
The St. Mary’s Panthers might have forgotten what it’s like to lose. Wednesday night, they were given a painful reminder.
Oakland High’s Martel Israel hit a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left in regulation to give the Wildcats a 6-58 lead, and St. Mary’s guard John Sharper missed a last-second drive as the Panthers lost in the first round of the Chris Vonture Spartan Classic at De La Salle in Concord. The loss broke St. Mary’s 19-game winning streak, the start of which led into the school’s first state championship last season.
The Panthers have looked sluggish in their first two games this season without point guard DeShawn Freeman, who is out until January with a stress fracture in his leg. Freeman’s absence has forced shooting guard John Sharper into a playmaker’s role, and he has struggled to find his shot, making just 4-of-16 against the Wildcats after a 6-for-19 effort in the opener.
“John won’t admit it, but playing the point has been hard on him,” St. Mary’s head coach Jose Caraballo said after Wednesday’s game. “He has to have time to get used to it, and he’s not there yet.”
Sharper said that while he has had a slow start, he thinks he can handle the new role.
“I’ve just got to keep my composure,” said Sharper, who forced up some ill-advised shots on Wednesday. “There are no excuses. I’m just off my game right now.”
Sharing in Sharper’s misery was senior forward Chase Moore. Moore scored a team-high 13 points against Oakland, but also had several turnovers and missed opportunities.
One senior who didn’t struggle was guard Tim Fanning. The baby-faced Fanning scored 11 points, including three 3-pointers, and provided a spark off the bench.
“I count on one bench guy to come up big every game,” Caraballo said. “Tim played great tonight, but he was about the only one.”
Oakland answered St. Mary’s depth with great performances from point guard Ayinde Ubaka and center Isaiah Buckley. The duo combined to score 38 points, and Ubaka ran the St. Mary’s guards ragged with his slick ball-handling. The junior had six assists and could have had more if his teammates hadn’t blown several easy shots. Buckley dominated the boards, pulling down 13 rebounds and missing just three shots all night.
“(Oakland) just played harder than us,” Caraballo said. “They got every loose ball, they dominated us on the glass. They just wanted it more than us.”
The teams were even through three quarters, and Fanning hit a big 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to put his team up 49-47. But Buckley came right back with a monster dunk form an Ubaka feed, and neither team could take a lead of more than two points. Buckley made a free throw with a minute left for a 57-56 advantage, but St. Mary’s center Simon Knight found teammate Spartacus Rodriguez for an open layup that set up Israel’s heroics.
St. Mary’s faces Berkeley in the second round today at 3:30 p.m. It will be the second time the teams have faced off this week, with the Panthers winning the first game on Tuesday, 58-49.
’Jackets can’t find offense against Pilots
In a game full of miscues, Berkeley High made a few more than its opponent on Wednesday, falling to St. Joseph, 52-45, in the first round of the Chris Vonture Spartan Classic at De La Salle in Concord.
Berkeley looked like the young team it is, committing numerous unforced turnovers and getting no consistent production on offense. They were beaten by a Pilot team that didn’t play very well, but whose eight returning players stayed calm enough to survive a second-half run by the ’Jackets.
Down for almost all of the first half, Berkeley tied the game at 34-34 during the third quarter on the strength of three straight baskets by guard Garland Albert, but could never get a lead. The ’Jackets could muster just two free throws for the first seven minutes of the final quarter, dooming them to the loser’s bracket of the tournament.
“We just didn’t come out with enough intensity today,” Berkeley head coach Mike Gragnani said. “That cost us the game, not the turnovers.”
Forward Damien Burns led Berkeley with 12 points and 8 rebounds, but Berkeley shot just 34 percent from the field. Burns has been Berkeley’s lone offensive threat in the first two games, using his long frame and athleticism to grab offensive rebounds and score on the inside.
“Damien is a tremendous basketball talent,” Gragnani said of the senior, who didn’t play his first three years at Berkeley due to personal issues. “He’s doing and saying all the right things right now.”
They started the game by making just 1-of-14 in the first quarter as St. Joseph ran out to a 12-3 lead, but Burns led them back with a tough basket inside, followed by a breakaway dunk, to tie the score at 14-14. But whenever Berkeley seemed to have the momentum in its favor, a bad pass or poor shot selection would swing it right back over to the Pilots.
St. Joseph got 10 points apiece from guard Eric Wright and forward Cameron Quick, with no other Pilot scoring more than 4 points. But that was all they would need against the flailing ’Jackets, as Gragnani’s team was unable to get an offensive flow going for more than two or three possessions. Berkeley’s three sophomores, Khion Tate, Shawn Burl and Rodney Jones, combined for just 8 points despite ample playing time, and looked uncomfortable stepping up to take shots.
“Our young guys are taking some knocks right now, and it’s going to take a while to get them up to speed,” Gragnani said.
That could be said of nearly all the Berkeley players. With just three players returning from last year’s squad, Gragnani has to build from scratch, teaching his basic principles from the ground up.
“We’re a better team than we were when we started the season,” he said. “When January comes around, this team is going to look very different.”
Berkeley will face crosstown rival St. Mary’s in the second round today at 3:30 p.m. It will be the second meeting between the teams this week, with St. Mary’s winning the first game on Tuesday, 58-49.