SAN FRANCISCO - Former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano’s famous phrase “survive and advance” is intertwined with the month of March, and the Saint Ignatius Wildcats took these words to heart. In Tuesday night’s boys’ CIF NorCal Division III opener, the Cats barely survived, grinding out an ugly 52-50 win over visiting Bullard that left Wildcat players and fans happy that the team is still dancing into the next round.
It was apparent early that the two-seed Wildcats would not have an easy going against the 15-seed Knights, as SI found itself in a 9-2 hole late in the first quarter. Yet, as they had in moments throughout the season, the Cats clawed back quickly. Senior guard Kourosh Kahn-Adle, who finished with 13 points, hit consecutive threes to draw the Cats within one, and King Jhsanni-Wilhite converted two lay-ins off of steals to force a 12-12 tie to finish the first quarter.
The Wildcats found separation in the second quarter, and held a three-point lead heading into halftime, as Wilhite led all scorers with eight first-half points. Yet, the second quarter dragged on as a result of a combined 18 first half fouls, leading to a visible change in the rhythm of the game. This change of pace was even more apparent entering the third quarter, as the teams converted 23 total second-half fouls (13 for Bullard and 10 for St. Ignatius), as both teams entered the bonus with considerable time left on the clock in the third. It was during this time where Bullard excelled, pushing a 13-2 run to finish the third quarter, carrying a five point lead and the momentum into the fourth quarter.
“Neither team could really get into a rhythm,” St. Ignatius head coach Rob Marcaletti stated. “This game shows us just how fragile everything can be, and how a couple turnovers here and there can end our season.”
The Knights excelled on the defensive end during the second half, holding the Wildcats without a field goal for close to seven minutes, from the 3:24 mark in the third quarter all the way to the 4:41 mark in the fourth. Although the Wildcats struggled in this stretch, they entered the double bonus with over six minutes left to play, as free throws from underclassmen Giancarlo Toledo-Rivera and King Jhsanni-Wilhite, as well as rebounds from forward Malcolm McCray-Hill (who finished with 10) kept the Wildcats in the game.
Wilhite and Toledo-Rivera finished with 13 and eight points, respectively. The Wildcats broke the scoreless streak with a clutch basket from Kahn-Adle, and following a made basket from Ethan Jew, the Wildcats regained the lead.
“They tried to speed us up and we weren’t ready for that,” McCray-Hill stated following the win. “This game, we’re gonna flush it, and we’re ready for another opponent."
It appeared, in this instant, that the Wildcats had figured the game out and they could cruise to the first round win without having to bite any nails.Then, Bullard junior Omarion-Thomas Marshall had different plans. Thomas-Marshall led all scorers with 22 points and tallied eight rebounds, including scoring seven points in the final three and a half minutes for the Knights, even cutting the SI lead to only two, and following an offensive foul by McCray-Hill with 13 seconds remaining, the Knights had a shot to win.
Bullard held the ball before running an isolation play for sophomore Tyric Herod, prompting a missed game-winning shot and an SI victory.
“Thomas-Marshall is big for us,” Bullard head coach Tim Amudsen stated. “He was our leading scorer all year, and I was happy to see him play like this."
The Wildcats will now host Carmel in the CIF quarterfinals on Thursday, while Bullard’s season is over. Following Palo Alto’s first round loss, the Wildcats are the highest seed remaining in their NorCal bracket.