EASTVALE — Roosevelt boys basketball coach Stephen Singleton does not mind when his players “take things personally.”
Especially when it comes to playing defense.
JSerra handed the Mustangs their first loss of the season back in November, with Sebastian Rancik and Aidan Fowler combining to score 63 points in the double-overtime victory. Roosevelt made sure that didn’t happen in the rematch.
Rancik and Fowler only scored a combined 20 points on 6-of-21 shooting Friday night. Roosevelt’s defense forced the Lions into 23 turnovers, as the Mustangs posted a 64-51 win in the first of their three CIF Southern Section Open Division pool-play games.
“We talked all week about being locked in defensively,” Singleton said. “Defense is what wins these Open Division games.”
No one took that more to heart than Issac Williamson, who was tasked with defending Fowler during Friday’s contest. Fowler scored 31 points against the Mustangs back in November but managed only seven points in the postseason opener.
“I think we took our match-ups more personal today and tried to take away their best two players,” said Williamson, who also scored 16 points for the Mustangs in Friday’s game. “I just wanted to get in his head and make sure he never got comfortable. I also wanted to go at him hard on the offensive end, so he never got a break. I just wanted to keep wearing him down.”
It isn’t the first time Williamson has shut down a team’s leading scorer, and it probably won’t be the last either.
“In my opinion, Issac Williamson is the best defender in the entire state of California,” Singleton said. “He knew what happened the last time we played JSerra, and he prepared himself to make sure that didn’t happen again… Issac is just that guy.”
The first quarter featured six lead changes and two ties, but Roosevelt took a 15-14 lead at the end of the period after Brayden Burries made 3 of 4 shots at the free-throw line. JSerra (24-5) surged to a 22-19 lead midway through the second period, but things quickly fell apart for the Lions. Roosevelt (28-2) knocked down its final seven shots and closed the half with a 17-5 run. Darnez Slater and Williamson combined for 15 points during that Mustangs’ run.
JSerra turned the ball over 12 times during the opening half, including four of its final five possessions before the intermission.
“We did have some bad turnovers, but that is a credit to their defensive pressure,” JSerra coach Keith Wilkinson said. “They forced us into making those mistakes. You can’t win games with that many turnovers, especially on the road.”
Roosevelt made only 1 of 10 shots from the field to start the second half, and the Mustangs’ lead began to dwindle. JSerra went on a 10-1 run and closed the gap to 41-39 when Rancik made a pair of free throws with 28 seconds remaining in the period.
Roosevelt point guard Myles Walker was held scoreless through three quarters, but he helped the Mustangs pull away with 13 points in the final period. Walker drained a 3-pointer to start the quarter and sank another to extend the lead to 52-42 with 4:23 remaining in the game. Friday was Walker’s second game since returning from a wrist injury.
“They were all over Brayden and Issac, so I knew I had to be aggressive and just step up for my team,” Walker said. “My shot wasn’t falling in the first half, but I knew I had to keep taking my shots. It all worked out in the end.”
Burries finished with a game-high 17 points, and Slater added 14 to give Roosevelt four player in double figures.
Rancik scored 13 points to lead JSerra, while Diego Martinez and Ben Rabara added 10 and nine points, respectively.
Tuesday night, Roosevelt host St. Pius X-St. Matthias, which cruised to a 76-54 victory over Mater Dei on Friday. Roosevelt would clinch a spot in the Open Division championship with a victory plus a Mater Dei loss to JSerra.
“We just need to keep on bringing that same intensity to every game we play,” Singleton said. “Let’s get it done.”