Hillsdale boys’ basketball coach Brett Stevenson has said strong guard play is a must for playoff success.
The Knights got exactly that as their dynamic duo of Shawn Cotton Jr. and Calvin Mader-Clark combined for 38 points in top-seeded Hillsdale’s 59-40 rout of Christopher to capture the Central Coast Section Division II championship before a packed house in the Sequoia High School gym Saturday afternoon.
“I’ve been dreaming of a CCS championship ever since I got brought up my freshman year to varsity,” said Cotton, a four-year varsity player who scored a game-high 22 points Saturday. “It’s been a ride.”
And that ride will continue into the Northern California tournament as the Knights drew the No. 5 seed in the Division IV bracket and will host No. 12 Urban-SF in the first round at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.
The title is the school’s first CCS team championship since the 1997 boys’ basketball squad that advanced to the state championship game. The last CCS crown for Hillsdale came in 2013 when the tennis duo of Mariko Iinuma and Natalie Spievak captured the CCS doubles championship.
But Hillsdale’s performance was so much more than just Cotton and Mader-Clark, who added 16 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks. The Knights got contributions from so many guys as they put together, arguably, their best performance of the season. They shot exactly 50% from the field (23 of 46) and out-rebounded the seventh-seeded Cougars 26-23, including a 10-1 margin in the first quarter. Defensively, Hillsdale (20-7) held Christopher ( 18-10) to just 16 for 44 from the field and forced 20 turnovers.
“By far, the best game we’ve played all season,” Cotton said. “Best team I’ve ever played for.”
Hillsdale center Nick Robinson, who had missed the previous couple weeks with injury, checked into the game in the second quarter and scored a pair of buckets in limited action which provided a psychological boost.
“We weren’t counting on him, but he told me [Friday] he was ready to go,” Stevenson said.
Oliver Crank added 8 points, with 6 coming in the first quarter as Cotton and Mader-Clark struggled early on. Point guard Matt Chan, a three-year varsity player, knocked down a corner 3 with under a minute to play in the opening period for his only points of the game, Reece Nobida added a pair buckets and even Brett Loy’s only basket was a critical one.
“It’s a team effort,” Cotton said. “It takes all five guys on the court (to be successful). Just an all-around team game.”
Christopher led only twice during the game – 2-0 and 10-9, both in the first quarter. Five first-quarter turnover from the Knights kept the Cougars in the game early as they trailed just 18-12 after the first quarter.
But Hillsdale turned up the defensive intensity in the second and third quarters, holding Christopher to a combined 14 points, to take control of the game. A jump hook from Robinson and 3-pointer from Cotton pushed the Knights’ lead to 23-12 early in the second period. Robinson then scored on a roll to the basket and Cotton knocked down a pull-up jumper. Loy closed out the scoring in the half on a fastbreak layup, using a pump fake to get the defender off his feet and out of position as Loy calmly converted to give Hillsdale a 29-19 lead at halftime.
In the third period, the Knights put it all together. They scored 16 points in the quarter while limiting the Cougars to just 7 points for the second period in a row. Christopher’s Tobenna Ezeokeke, who tied for team-high scoring honors with 9 points, rattled home a 3-pointer to open the second-half scoring, but Hillsdale responded with a 6-0 run – a Nobida layup, an off-balance jumper from Cotton and a turnaround jumper from Mader-Clark – pushed the Knights’ lead to 35-22 with 4:03 left in the quarter. Ezeokeke scored on a putback to briefly stem Hillsdale, but the Knight came right back with a 7-0 run – which included a three-point play, followed by a steal and layup from Cotton – to give Hillsdale its biggest lead of the game, 42-24, with two minutes left in the period.
When Mader-Clark drained a 3 with seven seconds left in the third, the Knights led 45-26. The fourth quarter essentially became a coronation for the Knights.
“Second game in a row we played really well,” Stevenson said, coming on the heels of Thursday’s 77-67 win over Willow Glen in the semifinals. “It was just a complete game. Can’t be a 16-minute game. It can’t be a 24-minute game. We had to put a complete 32 minutes together.”