By SF Examiner Patrick Cochran/ Photo by Eric Sun
The City College of San Francisco men’s basketball team beat Canada College 83-67 to advance to the Elite Eight of the CCCAA playoffs on Saturday. Sophomore guard Alec Check led the way with a ‘3 and D’ performance, knocking down five 3-pointers to guide his team to victory.
“Thank god Alec Check stepped up,” head coach Justin Labagh said. “It was his best shooting night he has had here. He has been putting in the most amount of time shooting of anybody on the team. He put the time in and that is what it looks like.”
The Rams started the night off in an exciting fashion. Star sophomore wing and Coast-North MVP Malcolm Johnson got a rebound and pushed the ball up court hard and finished with a two-handed jam to get the near-capacity crowd jumping.
The Colts quickly turned the tables though, and for the first 10 minutes, controlled the pace. The Rams were down 17-12 before their offense started rolling. Quick baskets in the paint by Austin Harris and Emeka Udenyi gave City College an 18-17 lead.
The Rams got their act together for the second part of the half. Johnson, who led the team with 22 points, made tough baskets in the paint while Check drilled threes from the corner.
“My teammates were driving and clogging up the paint and I was able to hit the wide open threes,” Check said. “I’ve been working on those every day so I felt good to take the shots.”
By halftime, the Rams had pulled away and increased their lead to 40-33. Despite leading, City College didn’t play their best half and could have led by more. Forced passes led to unnecessary turnovers and players missed layups and other short shots that they usually make.
“I didn’t think they played bad, but in order to open up that game we needed to not turn over the ball, and we did that in groups right when we were about to pull away,” Labagh said. “That allowed them to stay in the game, we got loose with it. Hopefully we learn our lesson today. The missed layups are mental mistakes we have to get rid of. We will fix those; I’m not worried about that.”
The Rams began the second half hot. Sophomore wing Austin McCullough drilled a three from the left corner to start and on the next possession Check hit another three to put his team up 46-33.
Moments later, with the Rams up 49-35, Johnson stole the ball and burst downcourt for what appeared to be an easy fast break basket, but he was suddenly tackled from behind by Cañada’s Lovevele Shackelford and fell to the ground hard.
The referee called a technical and Shackelford was ejected from the game, but it would not be his final technical since he was called another one later on when he heckled the refs from the bench. Johnson got a scrape on his face and left the game but returned later.
“It was a bad play.” Johnson said. “We were just playing, there might have been some bad blood with them versus us but there was none for us versus them.”
“I don’t think they did it on purpose,” Labagh said. “I know the coach and he does a good job and doesn’t promote that.”
After that fiasco, the Rams found themselves in a cold spot and went on a scoring drought for the next four minutes. City College was finally able to shake itself awake thanks to some clutch baskets by Johnson.
Check was on fire during the second half, scoring 11 of his 17 points. During the final 10 minutes of the half, Check hit two threes, including one from the right corner while fading away as the shot clock expired.
By time time the final buzzer sounded, the Rams had increased their lead to 83-65. City College will now travel to Ventura for the next round, where they will face some unfamiliar teams from SoCal.
“We will be here tomorrow watching film all day long,” Labagh said. “I haven’t watched one minute from any of those teams down south, so it will be all new to me.”
Despite the success on the men’s side, City College basketball did suffer a setback Saturday night when the women’s team lost their playoff game against Sequoia College 64-59. The program’s hope of winning a title now rests on the men’s shoulders as they travel down south. The men will play Santa Monica College on Thursday, March 14.