As the saying goes, good things come to those who wait.
The Bishop Diego boys basketball team couldn’t wait for its rematch against Santa Clara after the Saints escaped with an overtime victory in the first matchup between Tri-Valley League foes. The Cardinals were able to return the favor in a big way Friday night, outscoring Santa Clara by 16 points in the second half on their way to a 58-47 victory.
Persistence is also paying dividends for Bishop’s Tyler Williams, a sophomore who was forced to sit out until late December after transferring. Williams scored a game-high 17 points Friday night and seems to be finding his rhythm at just the right time.
“That first month was a super long month, but it feels good to be back out here,” Williams said after the game. “We’re just getting ready for playoffs and trying to make our run.”
After a back and forth first quarter that saw Santa Clara (10-15, 3-2 in Tri-Valley) open a 13-11 lead, the two teams continued to exchange baskets midway through the second. The Saints then got hot and turned an 18-17 deficit into a 28-18 lead with just over two minutes left in the first half. After Santa Clara’s Kyler Vea hit from deep, Giovanni Scott scored off an offensive rebound. Xavier Henry scored the next six points for the visitors before Williams hit a 3-pointer with 1:44 left in the half to end the run. A few possessions later, Williams weaved through and around several Saints defenders on his way to converting a layup with 1:15 left in the half to make it 28-23. Neither team scored the rest of the half.
Bishop (13-10, 3-2 in Tri-Valley) found itself trailing by nine points with six minutes remaining in the third quarter before finding its rhythm. Bryan Trejo hit a floater in the lane and a few possessions later Matthew Cunningham scored on a put back to bring Bishop within five. Williams drilled a 3-pointer with 2:20 left in the third to tie the game at 33, but the Saints answered back and quickly took a 37-33 advantage with 90 seconds remaining in the third.
Cunningham’s jumper with 18 seconds left made it a two-point game. After a Saints turnover, Williams threw a full court pass to Connor Street, whose first bucket of the game came as the third quarter buzzer sounded to tie the game at 37.
Santa Clara’s Scott scored on the Saints first offensive possession of the fourth, but the away team went cold from there. Streett answered back with a corner jumper to tie the game before Bishop took control. Kai Morphy scored on a put back before Williams hit a corner three. Street hit a three of his own with 2:52 left before Morphy scored on a layup. Cunningham, who finished with 15 points, then hit two from the foul line to give the Cardinals a 53-41 lead with 2:35 left.
The Saints would score a few baskets late, but Bishop was able to take care of the ball and knock down its free throws to secure the win.
“We’re growing up,” said Bishop coach James Coronado after the win. “They smacked us in the mouth a couple of times on offense and on defense in the first half and we didn’t waver.
“I thought they were on fire in the first half and I think we kind of calmed down a little bit. We know how to press break, but like I said we got a little rattled in the first half, but we slowed down, stuck to our principles. I’ve been really preaching moving the ball and not dribbling so much, and I told them’ we are going to get tested, we have to stop dribbling the ball’ and they did. We moved without the ball and they didn’t bother us in the second half.”
Friday’s victory also avenges a 47-46 overtime loss the Cardinals suffered against the Saints Jan. 8. The Saints banked in a 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds remaining in the first matchup.
“That was our first league loss, so ever since then we’ve been looking back at this and wanting to play them again,” Williams said. “We finally got it.”
Both teams are now 3-2 in the Tri-Valley League, tied for second place behind St. Bonaventure (12-7, 4-0).
“We’re trying to make the playoffs and stay in the top two,” Streett said. “It’s good for us to stay in contention with St. Bonnie – they’re always up there – but we’ve got to stay with them and keep winning.”
Williams and Streett both said the key in the second half for Bishop on offense was getting the ball to the middle of the floor. Players were able to drive the lane and finish at the rim, as well as find shooters on the perimeter. The hosts also benefited from the Saints cold shooting. In the first half, Santa Clara was able to get into its press defense after making shots. The Saints were held to just 10 points in the fourth and went nearly five minutes of game time without a basket in the final quarter.
Coronado said that while Williams has given the Cardinals’ offense a boost, it’s been his toughness that has really helped the team.
“He’s one of the guys that I can give him that shake of my hands and say ‘let’s go’ and he goes,” Coronado said. “Sometimes it takes a while, but he gets it.”