When point guard King-Njhsanni Wilhite abruptly left Riordan for Red Rock Academy, the Crusaders had to find a way to replace their 21 points per game.
They’ve managed to do so with a balanced offense, like the 69-58 showing Tuesday night at the Fightin’ Irish at the Sacred Heart.
Four different players hit double figures: Jasir Rencher, Nathan Tshamala, Christian Wise and Achilles Woodson. Riordan (14-3, 7-0 WCAL) dominated the Western Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) halfway through.
“It was important to get through the first half of the league with a score of 7-0 and come through unscathed,” Riordan coach Joey Curtin said. “And I think the types of wins we got helped. We got all kinds of wins.”
However, it has not been all smooth sailing. The Sacred Heart (9-7, 3-3) trailed just 57-55 after a Jack Kennedy layup with 2:22 remaining and the Crusaders outscored 12-3. Rencher restored a pair of leads with a spinning layup, and a Wise block set up a Woodson-to-Rencher alley-oop that nearly blew the roof off the Crusader Forum with 1:27 left.
“I just realized we had to slow down,” Rencher said. “I took charge and slowed us down, I just did what I needed to do to help our team win.”
It’s unusual for a sophomore to take on such a big leadership role, but Rencher is no ordinary player, with offers including Mississippi State and Texas A&M. He’s also one of the more experienced members of the Crusader roster, which is full of talent but has seen players miss games with injuries and transfer hiatus.
“We don’t have that much gaming experience, but they had a lot of fun,” Curtin said.
Riordan tried to tie the game at the free throw line, but Tshamala, who missed the first two games with a facial injury, extended the lead to 65-56 on a free throw error with 39 seconds left, putting the game out of reach.
Tshamala and his cousin, freshman Alex Kuminga, both hit clutch shots in the first half. Riordan led 15-12 after a quarter thanks to Tshamala’s 3-pointer, and Kuminga hit a 3-pointer as part of a 12-0 run that gave the hosts a 29-18 lead in the second quarter.
Rencher scored 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter to keep the Irish in the lead, while Woodson scored 13 of his 21 points in the second half.
Feder Pernell tied Woodson with 21 points to keep SHC within striking distance all night.
“We’re always talking about being in control of what we do, worrying more about our efforts than winning or losing,” Sacred Heart coach Keesar Smith said. “They showed tonight that they give it their all every time and I’m proud of that.”
Fightin’ Irish host Serra (9-7, 2-4) on Thursday. The Padres came back from a dramatic 14-point fourth-quarter comeback at St. Ignatius Tuesday night. Riordan hosts St. Ignatius (9-8, 3-4), looking to complete a season sweep of the Wildcats. When the two teams met on January 4, the Crusaders won 63-52.
Tuesday night’s victory marked the Riordan’s 10th consecutive victory over the Fightin’ Irish and the Crusaders’ 11th consecutive home victory over SHC. The Irish last won at the Crusader Forum on February 9, 2012, led by veterans Taylor Johns and Josh Fox.
As senior statistician Patrick Segurson pointed out on twitterTuesday’s win was Riordan’s 400th in WCAL history, the most among the league’s eight members.