In the second round Division 4 playoff match between the Viewpoint Patriots and Notre Dame Knights on March 12, both teams got off to such a hot start, their torrid paces seemed to be unsustainable. But senior forward Aram Arslanian of Viewpoint and senior forward Chibueze Jacobs of Notre Dame were just getting started. Unfortunately for Jacobs and his Knights, Viewpoint was able to rally around the sharpshooting Arslanian and convert the plays it needed to seal the 76-69 victory and knock Notre Dame out of the playoffs.
Beginning in the second quarter, Arslanian found himself in the kind of rhythm basketball players dream about, pouring in 27 of his game-high 30 points over the final three quarters. And while Jacobs was held out of the scoring column in the second quarter, he was nearly unstoppable in the second half, scoring 22 of his team-high 29 points after the intermission and engaging Arslanian in a duel that kept the game interesting until the final stages.
Back and forth first half
The two frames of this game were about as evenly matched a contest as you’ll see. Both teams brought a tremendous amount of confidence and momentum into the game. Viewpoint boasted a 9-1 record in its previous 10 games, while Notre Dame won an impressive 8-2 games in its own previous 10. On March 12, Notre Dame struck first, getting three quick baskets from junior forward Chance Goring (who finished with 12 points on the night) and two quick three pointers from Jacobs.
“They just got out to an incredibly hot start, and you have to credit them,” comments Viewpoint head coach J.J. Prince.
But Viewpoint quickly caught up to Notre Dame’s frenetic pace, getting clutch baskets from Arslanian. Thanks to Harvard-bound senior shooting guard Christian Juzang (16 points) and senior point guard Sayo Denloye (14 points), they pulled to within one point of the Knights after one quarter.
The Patriots continued to hit timely shots in the second quarter, fueled by Arslanian’s eight points in the frame. The Knights as a whole cooled down significantly, but were kept afloat by senior forward Jonathan Stretesky (19 points, four three-point field goals), and trailed by just two points at halftime.
When Juzang and Denloye both found themselves in foul trouble early in the second half, Viewpoint needed someone to pick up their slack for two of their tri-captains. Third tri-captain Arslanian came to the rescue, putting on an amazing second half shooting display in which he knocked down eight of his 10 field goal attempts.
“I gotta credit my teammates for finding me,” says Arslanian. “They were playing zone all night, so we did a great job of picking and choosing our spots.”
But Prince was more willing to boast about his star forward’s performance.
“He’s tremendous,” says Prince of Arslanian. “He’s Mr. Versatility, able to do so many different things for us in a variety of ways. He plays anywhere from the point to the five. It doesn’t matter; he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
Struggling to recapture its first quarter magic, Notre Dame also found itself in dire need of someone rising to the challenge. And it was Jacobs who answered the call, nearly matching Arslanian shot for shot. But despite Jacobs’ best efforts, Viewpoint was able to generate the stops it needed throughout the half to take control of the game and never relinquish it.
“I don’t think there was a tangible adjustment we made,” explains Prince of his squad’s ability to steal the second half momentum. “I think we just started to settle down and play better defense. And as we got more stops, we got more scores.”
Although Notre Dame’s season ended in disappointment, the Knights’ stellar play in the second half of the season gives them much to be proud of as it regroups for next season. Jacobs, Stretesky and a few other key seniors are graduating, but Goring will return. And young coach Vince Oliver seems eager to take on the challenge of re-tooling with the pieces he will have.
As for Viewpoint, it advanced to host El Camino in the third round March 15. And though El Camino, fresh off of toppling regional No. 1 seed Diamond Ranch, poses a major challenge, Prince is very confident in his team.
“We’re playing our best basketball right now,” says Prince. “It feels really good.”