On the final night of the 2021-22 high school basketball season, in an NBA arena that seats more than 17,000, it was a fitting tribute for Corona Centennial to turn in one final winning performance while encountering one of its toughest challenges of the season.
The Huskies won 33 of 34 games over a five-month period of dominance. With point guard Donovan Dent serving as the conductor and coach Josh Giles providing the adult guidance, this close-knit group of teenage high achievers separated themselves.
Except to win a state championship in the CIF Open Division, you have to earn it, and Modesto Christian made the Huskies do just that on Saturday night at the Golden 1 Center. Clutch baskets by Dent and Jared McCain in the fourth quarter helped the Huskies come away with a 59-50 victory to claim their first state Open Division championship.
Sophomores Manasse Itete and Jamari Phillips combined to score three consecutive baskets in the fourth quarter to pull Modesto Christian within 46-43 with five minutes left. Then 6-foot-10 junior Prince Oseya contributed a three-point play, tying the score at 46-46 and completing a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter.
The Huskies’ outside shots were suddenly not falling, and Oseya was using his height and long arms to be a blockade inside. The Northern California crowd began to get louder and louder favoring the Crusaders.
But that’s when the New Mexico-bound Dent stepped forward to take control. He made three straight pressure-filled baskets. There also was a three by Jared McCain with 2:21 left to up Centennial’s lead to 55-50. There was a Ramsey Huff fast-break basket to make it 57-50. And there was a dunk by Devin Williams off a Dent assist. Game over.
“I like big wins,” Dent said. “We hadn’t had a close game in a while, but we fought through it.”
Dent finished with 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists. McCain scored 16 points, making five of seven shots. Williams and Aaron McBride added 10 points apiece. Phillips led Modesto Christian (30-6) with 20 points. Modesto Christian trailed 30-22 at halftime when Centennial went to the locker room feeling it hadn’t given its best performance. The Huskies scored the first six points of the third quarter only to see the Crusaders go on a 9-0 run to get back into the game. Centennial couldn’t get its preferred fast pace going, slowed by too many fouls (six in the first five minutes).
In the end, the Huskies put a check mark on virtually every goal they set to achieve this season.
There was the rout of Studio City Harvard-Westlake in the Southern Section Open Division final. There was the rout of Chatsworth Sierra Canyon in the regional championship game. And there was turning back a young but talented Modesto Christian team that gave the Huskies their toughest game since an overtime victory over Nevada Coronado on Jan. 29.
“Amazing team,” Giles said.