Gilbert Christian's battle plan to beat Oaks Christian Saturday night in the title game of the 3rd annual Christian Cup was two-pronged.
Get the ball to 6-foot-7 forward Sam Jones often and not succumb as two other teams had to Oaks Christian's pressure. The host Knights were successful on both counts and needed to be as they edged Oaks Christian of Westlake Village, Calif., 63-61, to claim the tournament crown for the second year in a row.
Jones, a senior who signed last month with Penn of the Ivy League, scored a game-high 31 points. He didn't have his shots falling as he's like in the first half, but the second half was the pick-me-up his team needed to fend off Oaks Christian. Oaks Christian (2-1) was a scary foe after dismantling Woodland Christian and Augusta Christian in the first two rounds by an average of 56 points..
“The thing we emphasized was rebounding and limiting turnovers,” Gilbert Christian coach Jerome Joseph said. “They created so many turnovers with their pressure their first two games. We had to take care of the ball, and if we did thatwe were going to run our offense through Sam.”
The second half was closer all the way than the first that ended tied at 34. Neither team led by more than four points in the second half. The game was tied for the final time at 57 with 4:52 left on a three-point play by Austin Moye. That immediately followed a four-point play by Jones. Jones answered Moye with the last of his six, three-point field goals, giving Gilbert Christiain (3-1) the lead for good 60-57 with 4:39 left.
Jones scored on a layup with 3:20 left for a 62-58 advantage. Oaks Christian's Aleks Abrams made the final field goal of the game to pull the Lions within 62-60 with 2:47 left. The teams tightened up on defense the rest of the way and so did the shooters.
After Jordan Flannery made one of two free throws to cut the lead to 62-61 with 1:36 left, the teams traded turnovers twice to the finish. Oaks Christian's Kenny Smith Jr., missed a perimeter shot with 26 seconds left and a second attempt by Ryan Hiepler missed as well. Gilbert Christian sophomore Dontez Thomas made one of two free throws with 20 seconds left for the final point. His steal with three seconds left prevented a final Oaks Christian shot for the tie or win.
Jones, who was named the tournament MVP, scored 21 points in the second half. He made 8-of-11 shots from the flloor in the second half to finish 11 of 22 on the night.
“Sam's a great shooter,” Joseph said. “We knew in the second half he'd start making some more. He's someone you want to continue to shoot.”
The teams finished even at halftime. Even with Jones struggling wit his shot the first half (3-of-11 from the field) the Knights managed to lead 21-12 at one point. thanks to scoring from Cameron Satterwhite (8 points), Jimmy White (5) and point guard Roberto Reyes (4). Jones finiished with 10 points in the first half.
All nine players Oaks Christian coach A.J. Moye used in the opening half scored, led by Jordan Flannery and Austin Moye with eight points each. Both players at 6-5 did much of their damage in the paint. The collective Oaks Christian offense ovecame the 21-12 deficit and actually led 33-30 before Gilbert Christian evened things by the buzzer.
Named to the all-tournament team were Jones and Cameron Satterwhite of Gilbert Christian; Aleks Abrams, Flannery and Smith Jr., from Oaks Christian and Westwood's Shomari Gilliam. The Christian Character Award went to Augusta Christian's Jordan Dingle.