Through the first half and for most of the third quarter, the Serra boys basketball team lacked the necessary effort needed to advance in the St. John Bosco Winter Classic.
The Cavaliers allowed Los Altos center Jazz Gardner to dominate the paint in the first half, scoring 19 points.
In the third quarter, a four-point halftime deficit had increased to 11 and all signs were pointing toward a loss.
“I’m constantly telling my guys, we have to continue to play Serra basketball and our identity is defending,” Serra coach Bernard McCrumby said. “We get stops and rebound, we’ll be in good shape.”
The energy picked up in the third quarter as Serra rallied to get within one point and into the fourth quarter as it held on for a 54-51 win.
Serra will face Notre Dame in the quarterfinals, Thursday.
The turnaround started with center Duke Gipson’s defensive efforts against Gardner.
Gipson helped slow down Gardner, allowing him to score just four points in the second half.
“We had to be more disciplined, stay sound, keep our hands up, basically just sit on him and then the rest of the offense kind of falls apart after that,” Gipson, who also had 14 rebounds, said. “And the rest of the team played great off-the ball defense.”
Gipson made a pair of free throws early in the fourth quarter to give Serra a 42-41 lead.
Jeremy Dent-Smith then had consecutive offensive rebounds and put backs to make it 46-41. It was a lead Serra wouldn’t relinquish.
Dent-Smith had two fouls in the first quarter and scored just three points in the first half. He scored 14 points in the second half to key to comeback.
“The two fouls took me out of my game, I would say it was more like I felt my energy was low coming into the game,” Dent-Smith said. “My coaches kept telling me positive energy, positive energy …I saw my shots weren’t falling, I put my head down a little bit, but my teammates picked me up and gave me the positive energy I needed and in the second half, I was able to help them out.”
Dent-Smith also had nine rebounds and four steals. LaQwon Cole had 12 points and five steals and Tomi Adesiji had 11 points and five rebounds.
Serra would increase its lead to nine at 52-43 in the fourth quarter. Los Altos would scored eight consecutive points, but Dent-Smith put the game away with a pair of free throws with 2.8 seconds remaining.