It wasn’t quite an instant classic like their first game this season, but Bishop O’Dowd’s boys basketball team will take it anyway. The Dragons beat the Highlanders at home on February 5, 79-64, sweeping the season series.
O’Dowd won in double overtime in the teams’ first meeting back on January 15.
“It’s funny, after the last O’Dowd loss, you would have thought that someone died,” Piedmont coach Ben Spencer said. “We poured our heart and souls into that one loss. After the game tonight, a couple guys spoke up and they’re in great spirits. I think they recognize how good they are. A couple of guys said it’s a loss but these are the games that make you better.”
“Playing against teams like this, when we get back to D-4 teams and whoever they put in front of us, you play against this caliber team every night, you’re only going to get better.”
The first meeting felt a little like a missed chance, as the Highlanders had the lead late in regulation but couldn’t hold on. This time, Piedmont was competitive through the first half, but starting in the second quarter, Bishop O’Dowd slowly built up a lead.
The Dragons (15-7 overall, 7-0 in the West Alameda County Conference) had extended the lead to 56-40 late in the third quarter on a perfectly executed fast break, with Taj Phillips passing to Jalen Lewis for a dunk inside of 30 seconds.
But a lightning-fast 7-0 run to close the quarter gave the Highlanders (19-4 overall, 4-3 in the WACC) some hope entering the final period. DaRon Benson hit a 3-pointer, and two steals became two layups by Luke Harris buckets.
Piedmont just couldn’t sustain the run, however. Part of the problem was 3-point shooting – the Highlanders made just five of 25 on the night.
Shooting has been a strength for most of the season, but it’s turned less reliable of late.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” Spencer said. “I think we’re having to play a little bit faster against these athletic teams. So we’re maybe rushing some things. I think the speed and tempo at which we play – no Piedmont team has ever played this way before. So over a 26-game season, practicing as hard and as physical as we’ve been, it’s possible legs are just tired at this time of the year, too.”
“Most of the threes that we’re missing, they’re short. I attribute that a lot to maybe guys being tired. I spoke to them about making sure they’re mentally prepared. We’re not going to change the style of basketball that we play. I have no doubt that these guys will get their second wind in this part of the season and we’ll start to knock down some of those open looks.”
The other issue against Bishop O’Dowd was rebounds. Dragons’ forward Randall “Monty” Bowser missed the first meeting with Piedmont, per California Interscholastic Federation rules, because he was ejected from the prior game. He grabbed 15 rebounds in the rematch, and his team out-rebounded Piedmont, 41-22.
On the plus side, the Highlanders did a great job limiting super-freshman Lewis, who killed them in the first meeting with 26 points, 14 rebounds, and six blocked shots. This time, with DaRon Benson pestering him inside in what might at first glance seem a mismatch (Lewis is 6-foot-8, Benson is listed at 6-feet), Lewis committed several turnovers inside and had just 10 points and five rebounds.
Marsalis Roberson led Bishop O’Dowd with 18 points and six rebounds. Bowser and Austin Ronzone each had 10 points.
Luke Barrett led Piedmont with 19 points and four rebounds. Harris had 16 points and five rebounds, and Josh Eidam scored 11 off the bench.
The Highlanders were playing without Paul Davies, who normally starts at center. He was out with the flu, although he watched the game from behind the bench. Benson started in his place, as Spencer decided to go small. Benson finished with nine points and six rebounds.
Piedmont next faces Castro Valley on the road on February 7. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Photos by Devon O’Shaughnessy