The fact that the Cathedral Phantoms were without their best player, the injured Milan Acquaah (considered by many to be a top 10 high school basketball player in California), may have impacted their Feb. 5 game against the Bishop Montgomery Knights, but it had zero impact on their level of focus.

Currently ranked second in California, Bishop Montgomery often has a major advantage over its opponent on a given night. But, as any Knights player will tell you, they never play down to an opponent — evidenced by their 81-41 win.

“Coach [Doug] Mitchell makes sure that we don’t let up no matter who we play,” insists Bishop Montgomery forward Jordan Schakel. “We knew how important this game was. Even though their best player wasn’t playing, they have good players ready to step up, so we knew we had to play hard. We always play hard. Same mindset every game.”

Cathedral, which also lost UCLA-bound Kobe Paras (featured in our paper last year) to transfer at the start of the season, likewise approached the Feb. 5 game like a team that sensed its importance and wasn’t going to back down, regardless of the circumstances. Unfortunately for the home Phantoms, the Knights clicked on all cylinders, breaking the game open late in the first quarter and never looking back.

Muir shifts the gears

In the first quarter, the up-tempo Knights dictated the pace of the game and benefited from the hot hand of sophomore shooting guard David Singleton, who scored seven of his game-high 21 points. But the Phantoms, displaying tremendous energy in front of their supportive home crowd, seemed game for the challenge, trying to match the Knights blow for blow.

Thanks to nine first-quarter points courtesy of Utah State-bound senior forward Daron Henson (who finished with a team high 20 points), Cathedral trailed Bishop Montgomery by just three points through the game’s opening six minutes.

When the game clock hit 2:00 left in the frame, however, Cathedral’s proverbial clock struck midnight, as Bishop Montgomery received three unanswered baskets from junior reserve forward Jeff Muir (eight points on the night) to close out the quarter. In the second quarter, the Knights picked up right where they left off, going on a 24-8 tear, thanks in large part to junior forward Ethan Thompson’s (17 points) four baskets in during the frame.

Sharpshooting Schakel

Held in check for much of the first half, Schakel exploded in the third quarter, pouring in 12 of his 20 points. “I started off and my shots weren’t falling, but I just kept shooting and kept believing, and got shots to fall in the third,” recalls Schakel.

Bishop Montgomery also continued to fluster Cathedral on the defensive end, forcing the Phantoms into several difficult, deep shot attempts and turnovers. The lone bright spot in the third quarter for Cathedral came right at the end, when Henson swished a half court heave to beat the buzzer.

With the game well out of hand, both teams cleared their benches for a large chunk of the fourth quarter. To the Cathedral crowd’s delight, seldom used senior shooting guard James Barragan nailed a three pointer and shortly thereafter stole the ball in the backcourt and cruised in for a layup.

Though the Phantoms played hard until the final buzzer, that buzzer couldn’t have come soon enough, as the game belonged to the Knights, which had eight different players in the scoring column.