PALO CEDRO – Two weeks without games following 13 contests in 19 days was almost too much of a break for Redding Christian’s boys basketball team that it couldn’t shake the rust.
Redding Christian pulled away in a defensive battle with a 9-2 run inside the final 3 minutes to take down visiting Fall River 45-37 Wednesday night in a pivotal Division VI clash.
To make it more difficult for Redding Christian to stay unbeaten, the Lions (14-0) had yet to see a challenging opponent similar to the Bulldogs (12-3).
“I think there was a little anxiousness, a little nerves and we haven’t played anyone like them yet,” said Lions coach Todd Dwyer. “We talked about matching their intensity and being physical. It was definitely rusty and not very pretty.”
It didn’t help that Redding Christian’s 6-foot-10 center Drew Nelson-Crowell played most of the game in foul trouble, sitting for nearly 8 minutes in the first half and fouling out with 4:04 remaining in the game with the Lions leading by eight.
Fall River sophomore Ryan Osborne was undersized but played strong and physical defense and 6-5 senior Brian Meeker chipped in to help with the double team inside. The Bulldogs were able to crowd the middle on Nelson-Crowell and not allow him to get in a rhythm due to the off-shooting night from the Lions’ wings.
“We like to establish him early, it’s obvious he’s our go to guy and we normally have good shooters on the wing that can hit to take the pressure off,” Dwyer said. “I think he was anxious and wanted to get going.”
Nelson-Crowell finished with three points and 10 rebounds while sophomores Jaidan Piercey registered a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds and Shane Harper chipped in with 13 points.
It was an ugly offensive display through the first three quarters as neither team reached double figures in a single period. Redding Christian led 15-13 at half but trailed 21-20 entering the fourth quarter thanks to three straight Bulldog buckets in transition – two from Royce Knoch and one from Osborne.
“We usually feed off of easy transition points and that makes it easier for us but we couldn’t shoot our way out of a paper bag,” Fall River coach Scott Gallion said.
The final period is when it got interesting. A pair of Nelson-Crowell free throws put the Lions up one before Harper took control.
He dropped in a sideways floater for an and-1, Nelson-Crowell – playing with four fouls – came up with a big block around the rim which led to Harper nailing a pull-up trey from the top of the key. The next possession the point guard buried a 15-foot jumper for a 32-23 advantage to cap a 10-0 Redding Christian run.
Fall River answered with a 7-1 run once Nelson-Crowell fouled out. The Lions didn’t have a presence in the paint, allowing for Knoch and Osborne to both score on second chances inside to make it a three-point game with 2:17 remaining. Knoch paced Fall River with 14 points and Osborne finished with 11.
Ty Vickery broke the press for a lay-in and split two free throws on the ensuing possession. By then, Fall River initiated the foul & free-throw game, trying to cut into the deficit. Antonio Iniguez made a bucket to keep it at six but Piercey and Jackson Black each sank two freebies to go up 10 with 49 seconds left.
Knoch drilled a 3 but the Bulldogs couldn’t get closer than seven the rest of the way.
Redding Christian shot 14-of-19 from the charity stripe in the final period after making just 2-of-8 through the first three quarters.
“We were struggling early with scoring and weren’t making three throws but once we got a few to go in, saw the ball go through the hoop we saw a little confidence come back,” Dwyer said.
Redding Christian, the back-to-back D-VI section champ, now has the edge as the D-VI favorite with Weed and Fall River still having to face off twice in league play.
But Gallion hopes to see the Lions again, just not until March on championship weekend.
“They definitely have the leg up on us,” Gallion said. “They’re a tough team.”
Fall River 9-4-8-16—37
Redding Christian 6-9-5-25—42
Fall River (12-3): Knoch 14, Osborne 11, Westlund 6, Iniguez 4, Oilar 2.
Redding Christian (14-0): Harper 13, Piercey 13, Black 9, Vickery 7, Nelson-Crowell 3.
3-pointers—Fall River 1: Knoch (1); Redding Christian 3: Harper (2), Vickery (1).
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