Do you want to know just how good the Bishop Montgomery Knights Boys Basketball team has been this season? To give you an idea, after defeating the St. Augustine-San Diego Saints on their home court 75-61 on Friday night, Bishop Montgomery head coach Doug Mitchell said, disappointedly, “We’ve had a lot of big games in a row, and maybe we were due for a bad one. I’m glad we survived, but we need to play better in the next game.”

   Most teams wouldn’t characterize a convincing win over the Saints, the 21st ranked team in all of California, as a “bad game,” or a 14 point margin of victory as survival mode. But the Knights aren’t most teams. Ranked first in the state and second in the entire nation, Montgomery’s players echoed the sentiment of their coach that, after displaying extraordinary team play in the first quarter, the final three frames saw them take their collective foot off of the gas pedal. “We were a little passive toward the end of the game, and we gotta pick it up for the next one,” declared Montgomery’s Oregon State-bound star senior forward and co-captain Stephen Thompson Jr.

   Though it wasn’t their overall best, the Knights’ performance was still more than good enough to eliminate the Saints from the immensely competitive Open Division and ensure that there will be a “next one.”

rnThe Stephen Thompson Jr. Show

   With the raucous Montgomery student section cheering at full blast and after a National Anthem performed beautifully by alternative pop rock band Signal City (who would go on to sing the National Anthem at Sunday’s Laker game at the Staples Center), the energy in the building couldn’t have been any higher. The Knights fed off that energy right from the tipoff, and treated the court to a virtually perfect first quarter.

   Thanks to efficient ball movement, hot shooting and feisty defense, Montgomery started the game with a 13-2 run, and held a commanding 23-10 lead by the quarter’s end. The Knights’ surge was largely fueled by Thompson Jr., who scored at will on drives to the basket and jump shots off the dribble. Thompson Jr. tallied nine points in the first quarter and added another 10 in the second quarter, which included a buzzer-beating three-pointer from about five feet beyond the arc. “My jumper was falling in the first half off the dribble, and I was just trying to be aggressive and get the win tonight,” said Thompson Jr. of his hot start.

   Montgomery also received strong efforts from senior guard and co-captain Christian Oshita (15 points for the night) and senior Blake Miles (10 total points). The home crowd gave their Knights a well-deserved standing ovation as they took a 43-26 lead into the locker room.

rnSt. Augustine Sticks Around

  After a first half in which they were devoid of defensive answers for Thompson Jr., the Saints managed to contain him much more effectively in the second half. And as Thompson Jr. slowed down, so did the rest of his Knights squad on both sides of the ball.

  “I thought we stopped playing as hard as we should (in the second half),” Mitchell assessed. “I thought we got really complacent … as a matter of fact, I could kind of feel it at halftime. The second quarter wasn’t as good as the first, and we just never got back to playing defense like I think we can.”

   St. Augustine took advantage of Montgomery’s second half defensive lapse, beginning the half with a 10-4 run keyed by sophomore guard Otto Taylor (10 points) and freshman Taeshon Cherry (9 points) that cut the deficit to 11 midway through the third quarter. The Knights responded with a 13-5 run of their own to close the quarter, but the Saints’ comeback effort was far from finished. Down 60-42 with 6:39 left to play, St. Augustine generated a valiant last stand fueled by the team’s co-captains, juniors Eric Monroe (12 total points), and forward Martin Tombe, who exploded for nine fourth quarter points (giving him a team-high 15).

   A Tombe trey ball late in the fourth cut the margin to single digits (69-60) for the first time since early in the first quarter. But with only 1:33 left in the game, St. Augustine’s commendable comeback effort was simply too little, too late. Thanks to solid free throw shooting from Oshita and Thompson Jr. (who finished with a game-high 29 points), as well as an emphatic dunk just before the buzzer courtesy of Thompson Jr.’s little brother, sophomore Ethan Thompson (nine points), Montgomery finished on a high note to earn the 75-61 victory.

rnUp Next: Mater Dei

   The next challenge for Bishop Montgomery will take place Tuesday night, when they host the fellow perennial powerhouses, the Mater Dei Monarchs. “They [the Monarchs] are a great program; a great team with a great coach,” said Mitchell. “We deserve the chance to play them. But we have to play better. And I think we will. I trust these kids. They’ve always responded, so I think we’ll play better.”

  With the fifth-ranked team in the state coming into town, the Knights can’t afford to come out with anything less than their best.