CIF boys basketball: Cardinal Newman hangs on

By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Cardinal Newman boys basketball team lives to play another day — barely.

In a thrilling Wednesday night first-round game of the Division 4 CIF California State boys basketball playoffs, the host No. 7-seeded Cardinals (28-5) squeaked out a 53-51 win against undersized and outmanned No. 10-seeded underdog Thurgood Marshall (15-15) of San Francisco.

With the victory, Cardinal Newman advances to the quarterfinals of the northern California half of the playoff bracket and plays Saturday at No.2-seeded Modesto Christian, which had a first-round bye.

“I don’t think we played our best basketball tonight but we played well enough to win,” Cardinal Newman coach Tom Bonfigli said. “We dodged a bullet. The most important thing is that we are guaranteed 32 more minutes on Saturday.”

Cardinal Newman trailed 40-35 at the end of the third quarter. Fortunately for the Cardinals, they turned on the spigot and played inspired basketball in the final eight minutes, outscoring the Phoenix 18-11 to win by a basket.

The Cardinals’ victory keyed off a 10-2 run early in the fourth quarter to tie the game 42-42.

With the Cardinals leading 53-51 in the final seconds, Marshall’s Mizell Parker got off a 3-point attempt with one second to play that hit the rim and bounded off as the buzzer blared.

For three quarters it was Marshall that looked like the team that had the will to win as the Cardinals sleepwalked through much of the game and played well below their talent level. Cardinal Newman was fortunate to win.

The Cardinals were led by a trio of scorers: Tim McCullough with 16 points, Corey Hammel with 13 points and Kenny Love with 12 points. Chris Cavalin led all rebounders with 10.

“They (Cardinals) play a nice controlled game,” Marshall coach Dezebee Miles said. “Their scorers take on their roles well.”

McCullough, in particular, hit critical shots to keep Cardinal Newman close every time the game appeared to be slipping away.

“Timmy played great,” Bonfigli said. “He was our best player on the court.”

The Phoenix were led by Aumon Holliday with 14 points. Holiday was held scoreless in the second half before fouling out with five minutes to play.

“Without a doubt our lack of depth hurt us, especially after one of our best players (Holliday) fouled out,” Miles said. “But we fought all the way to the end.”

Indeed, Marshall was the scrappier of the two teams and outhustled and outmuscled the Cardinals for three quarters.

On paper Marshall was at a huge disadvantage. The Phoenix had only eight players compared with Cardinal Newman’s 13 players. Marshall had only one player taller than 6 feet, 6-foot-6 center Mark Alexander. The Cardinals have five players 6-foot-4 or taller. Marshall was playing on the road with virtually no fan support.

However, Marshall’s speed in offensive transition and its defensive zone stymied the Cardinals for much of the game.

“Our kids came out and did exactly what we asked them to do,” Miles said. Cardinal Newman turned it on in the end when it needed to and that’s what matters, according to Bonfigli.

“We weren’t playing as hard and as sharp as we normally do,” Bonfigli said. “Modesto Christian is a great team and we know that. We will have to play better on Saturday to beat them.”

Cardinal Newman won the rebound battle 26-24 and committed only 11 turnovers to Marshall’s 15.

The Cardinals had seven fewer turnovers (11-4) in the second half than Marshall, which aided in Cardinal Newman’s comeback.

Despite Newman’s off-night, Bonfigli, who notched his 40th career northern California sectional playoff win, was upbeat about his team’s performance.

“We are in the quarterfinals of the state championship playing one of the best teams in the state on Saturday,” Bonfigli said. “That’s an accomplishment in itself.”