Ripon Christian coach Mark Hofman threw everything at Ripon in an attempt to cool off Malik Taylor on Friday.
“We tried diamond-and-1, we tried different screen defenses, we tried 2-3 zone, we tried full-court — we tried everything,” Hofman said. “Nothing was working.”
Not even a lull in action during the quarter could slow down the Indians’ junior guard, who scored in a variety of ways — including his trademark tear-drop floaters — to accumulate 34 points in the 70-64 win for host Ripon.
It was an exciting capper to the topsy-turvy Trans-Valley League season culminated with these neighboring schools sharing the crown, the fourth in a row for Ripon (9-3, 15-13 overall). As for the Knights (9-3, 20-7), they had won six straight since their previous 59-56 loss to Ripon last month and will remain in Division VI for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs as a result of Friday’s outcome.
Back to Taylor, who went for double digits in each of the first three quarters and had 30 heading into the fourth. At one point in the third, with 4:37 to go, he grabbed a mop to dry up a small puddle of sweat under the hoop. Taylor had accounted for all eight of his teams’ points of the quarter by then, and he tacked on four more before the end of it.
“I knew it was a big game,” Taylor said. “I just had to come out with the right mind set and the right energy, play hard and play like I know how to play basketball.”
Taylor made four 3-pointers and followed one with an and-1 free throw, but de did more than just get buckets and mop the hardwood. He also contributed four rebounds, four assists and two steals, and when Taylor did score it was typically in the flow of the offense.
“When he does that we’re a special team,” Ripon coach Justin Graham said. “He’s easily our best playmaker and our best scorer, and if he finds ways to get other people involved we can make some noise in the playoffs. We can be a dangerous team.”
Ripon held a slender lead for most of the game, and the margin was at its widest after Troy Brogan’s and-1 put-back made it 55-45 in the final minute of the third.
Graham said that the regular-season finale is the “most complete” his team has put together so far. It has understandably taken awhile to get to this point considering the Indians’ senior starters — point guard Danny Hernandez (three assists), off guard Nico Ilardi (14 points, four rebounds) and power forward Brogan (eight points, seven rebounds, four steals) — had a late start to the season after leading the school to its first-ever state football championship.
In addition, 6-foot-7 sophomore center Bronson Burrow joined the team even later because he had to serve the Sit-Out Period for transferring from Modesto Christian.
“It was definitely a struggle at the beginning,” Taylor said. “In practice we just kept working and working knowing it’s all going to come together in the end.”
Ripon Christian had its usual scoring balance but struggled to get layups and 3s to fall during various key moments of the contest. Will Gilbert led the Knights with 18 points; Braden Van Groningen produced 15 points, 11 rebounds and three steals, and Jacob Van Groningen collected 12 points, eight boards and six steals.
“If you compare games this year, like with Hilmar, we (beat) them twice this year while (Ripon) got beat by Hilmar twice,” Gilbert said. “It’s just weird. Coach often says that anything can happen in the TVL and tonight’s game was a testament to that.
“They played well, I think we got outplayed, but that was not our best basketball.”
He and the rest of the Knights are hoping that is still to come with the postseason coming up. The section will reveal its brackets today online on the NFHS Network.
Had Ripon Christian come away with the outright TVL title, it would have moved up to the more competitive Division V bracket where the Knights felt it could still contend. They are currently the top-ranked Division VI team in Northern California, according to MaxPreps.
Ripon will play in Division IV where it was No. 12 in the most recent SJS Division IV MaxPreps rankings.
“I’m not sure there has been a game where we put together four complete quarters, and tonight was the closest thing we’ve had to it,” Graham said. “There’s always room for improvement, so we’ll watch the film, go back to work next week and try and get better for playoffs.”
Ripon 57, Ripon Christian 52
The TVL champion Indians (11-1) held the Knights to a seven-point third quarter.
Nolan Young led Ripon with 12 points. Anthony Sausedo, Landen West and Jacob Wallace added 10 points apiece.