Falcons stave off rival Chrisman for first playoff berth since 1995
It had been a long time coming for the Van Horn boys basketball team.
Twenty-six years to be exact.
It was 1995 when the Falcons last won a district championship. It had a chance to do so in Friday’s Class 5 District 14 final against crosstown rival William Chrisman.
Behind a combined 57 points between the trio of senior Jaden Monday and juniors Jeremy Paige and Brycen Dean, host Van Horn ended its near three-decade long drought without a district title in a 61-52 victory.
The Falcons (17-9) advanced to the Class 5 sectional round and will meet Ruskin (12-13) at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“Losing the district championship last year really humbled us,” Monday said of the 60-57 loss to Lincoln Prep a year ago. “We never wanted to feel that feeling again. There were a lot of tears shed that day. We worked our butts off to get to this point.”
After William Chrisman senior Anthony Watkins hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds, Paige caught the inbound pass and just held onto the ball as tight as he could. As the final buzzer sounded, he went to celebrate with his teammates as the Falcons jumped up and down and shouted before dogpiling near their 3-point line.
“That was the best feeling I have ever had in my life,” said Paige, who finished with 17 points. “I’ve never been on a winning team before. It feels great to change the culture.”
And a major part of that culture change lied with Monday. The Falcons star led all scorers with 25 points. He was mainly a facilitator in the first half, as Chrisman sent constant double-teams toward the standout guard, trying to get the ball out of his hands as much as possible.
He was able to find his teammates for open looks when he was drawing much of the attention.
In the second half, he took the game over, scoring 15 points in the final 16 minutes, relentlessly attacking the basket.
“Jaden can get in the paint any time he wants,” said Dean, who finished with 15 points. “Nobody in the state can guard him. Once he gets in the paint, it’s easy drop-offs and easy kick-outs for him.”
Monday got off to a fast start in the first quarter, scoring all 10 of his first half points in that period to help his team take a 15-12 lead into the second.
In the second quarter, the double-teams left Dean and Paige open. The duo combined to score all of the team’s 17 second-quarter points to help the Falcons go into halftime up 32-24.
“A lot of people see this and they see success, but they don’t understand how much hard work goes into this,” Paige said. “Every day we have been going and going and going and put in the work.”
Added Monday: “Those guys (Paige and Dean) took a lot of pressure off me. They are easy to play with.”
While the trio took on the scoring load, Van Horn forward Alex Morales has provided the Falcons with an interior presence they needed. He missed a bulk of the season with a knee injury, but since returning, he has provided solid rebounding and paint defense.
“It’s not just that Alex brings (rebounding and paint defense) himself, but now there is another person who can check in when we’re lacking rebounding,” Van Horn coach Max Sollars said. “That lights a fire under our guys. In the past, we could miss block-outs and fumble the ball. Now, if you miss those block-outs, you sit by Coach (Dante) Lee.
“Alex being here puts pressure on their bigs. That’s why they play so well.”
Dean got the Falcons started in the third with a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup. Monday then took over and scored the Falcons’ last five points of the period as they went into the fourth up 43-32.
Chrisman made a furious comeback. The Bears went on a 14-9 run, cutting the lead to 52-46 midway through the fourth. Dayne Herl sank a pair of 3-pointers, one from Zavier Jackson hit one and Cam Dickerson scored five points during the spurt.
However, moments later, Monday found Kaleb Jefferson wide open on the left wing after a drive and kick-out and the Falcons sophomore buried a 3-pointer that seemed like the dagger to the Bears. Van Horn hit 4 of 4 free throws down the stretch to help prevent any doubt about the winner.
“This hurts,” Chrisman coach Jake Kates said. “My thoughts are with my seniors. They battled, we just couldn’t finish around the rim, especially in the first half.”
Watkins, one of those seniors, led Chrisman with 18 points and Herl finished with 15 as the Bears finished with a 9-18 mark.