Going into Saturday night’s game against highly-ranked Archbishop Riordan (San Francisco), the ’Jackets knew the Crusaders had two big weapons, forwards Marquis Kately and John Tofi. But Riordan showed that it is more than the big duo, as two of the supporting cast had big nights to help their team to a 58-39 win in Berkeley.
With Tofi in foul trouble early, senior forward Ryan Bruno snuck through the Berkeley defense for 17 points and 8 rebounds, and point guard Josh Vergara pitched in 15 points to support Kately’s game-high 18-point effort. The Crusaders were simply too overpowering for the ’Jackets to have much of a chance.
“Ryan plays his butt off every game, and he’s always around the basket,” Riordan head coach Rich Forslund said. “He’s a good, smart player with a very good shooting touch. He showed what he could do tonight. This was his best game of the season.”
With the 6-foot-8 Tofi, 6-foot-5 Kately and 6-foot-4 Bruno, Riordan’s front line towered over the ’Jackets. Senior forward Damien Burns was the only Berkeley player who could find any room inside, but even he had two shots swatted away by the Riordan players. Tofi, Kately and Bruno combined for 28 rebounds, out-boarding the entire Berkeley squad.
Burns ended up with 8 points, six rebounds and 3 steals, and Rodney Jones led the ’Jackets with 9 points, but the crowd seemed most excited when Kately was in the open court. The high-flying senior, who has signed a letter of intent with Cal, had several opportunities for highlight-reel dunks, but twice his feet slipped out from under him, and Berkeley’s hustle kept him from lifting off on two other occasions.
“I think I was just too anxious,” Kately said of his difficulties. “We played pretty good as a team, but I’d say I only played so-so as an individual.”
With 9 rebounds and 3 steals to go with his scoring efforts, Kately’s “so-so” night was clearly more than the ’Jackets could handle. With the score tied 4-4 halfway through the first quarter, Kately picked off a Berkeley pass and headed the other way, making a layup while drawing a foul. Tofi picked up his second foul moments later and headed to the bench, but Kately dropped in two more buckets in the quarter and Bruno scored on two putbacks. Jones hit a 3-pointer with a minute left to draw the ’Jackets within a point at 9-8, but those were the last points Berkeley would score for nearly six minutes of action. Kately finished the quarter by diving out of bounds to save a teammate’s errant pass, then came back in to hit a short jumper to give his team a 13-9 lead at the break.
Riordan extended their lead to 27-8 before Nate Simmons finally broke Berkeley’s scoring drought with two free throws. Madiou Diouf would make a 3-pointer near the end of the half, but that was his team’s only field goal of the quarter, and when Kately got a tip-in at the buzzer, Riordan had a 32-16 advantage going into the break, a lead Berkeley would never threaten in the second half.
“Berkeley came out hard, and they double team so much that it’s hard to run an offense against them,” Forslund said. “But with them scrambling around, we got a lot of open looks around the basket.”
Bruno was the main recipient of those easy baskets, shooting a perfect 7-of-7 from the floor. Vergara, on the other hand, kept lurking around the perimeter, getting the ball to his big men inside and waiting for a kick-out pass. He hit two 3-pointers and slashed to the basket for two layups on his way to a season-high in points.
The young ’Jackets did show flashes of potential, including an aggressive effort by sophomore Khion Tate. Tate scored 7 points and struggled from the outside, missing three shots from behind the arc, but showed good athleticism driving to the basket and used every inch of his 6-foot-3 frame to block a Vergara jumper and come down with the loose ball. But overall the ’Jackets just didn’t look comfortable on offense as the Riordan big men recorded 7 blocked shots in the game.
Although Kately did manage two acrobatic layups, he never quite gave the crowd the rim-rattling jam it was waiting for. Tofi, however, managed to wow the spectators in the final seconds of the game, gathering an offensive rebound and flying over two ’Jackets for a power dunk.
“I don’t really feel pressure to put on a show,” Kately said of his reputation as a crowd-pleaser. “But if I get the chance, I don’t mind giving the fans some entertainment.