De La Salle star Alec Blair injured. Modesto Christian wins NorCal Open game at buzzer

CONCORD. —  De La Salle shouldn’t have even been in this position. 

Do-it-all junior forward Alec Blair had spent the entire fourth quarter on the Spartan bench after injuring his knee late in the third period. 

But somehow, some way, the hosts were tied with a bigger, stronger and faster Modesto Christian with under five seconds remaining in the NorCal Open Division first round playoff game. 

All De La Salle needed to do was grab a rebound to force overtime. 

But Modesto found a way to crash the boards, and after being knocked around in the fray, the ball bounced into Gavin Sykes’ hands. 

He flipped the ball into the basket as the buzzer sounded, giving Modesto a 51-49 victory and secured  its second-round showdown against  No. 1 seed Salesian.. 

De La Salle senior Arshawn Salkhi was one of several distraught Spartans who were inconsolable after the loss. . 

“It’s terrible, it’s an awful feeling,” Salkhi said. “We gave it our all. We left it all out there.”

De La Salle’s Arshawn Salkhi (23) reacts after the Spartans lost 51-49 in a buzzer beater by Modesto Christian in the second half of a NorCal Open basketball playoff game at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

Blair’s leg injury occurred with 11.5 seconds left in the third, when a Crusader inadvertently crashed into his knee following a Spartan foul. The star momentarily shook it off, scoring 10 seconds later on a tough mid-range jumper to give DLS a 41-38 lead with eight minutes to go. 

But this time, Blair stayed down and clutched his leg. The junior went back to and stayed in the locker for the first few minutes of the fourth, and was clearly not healthy enough to play when he hobbled back to the bench.

“I think it’s a sprain,” said Blair, who still led the team with 15 points. “I wanted to come back into the game, but the trainer said it wasn’t in my best interest. He told me to sit.”

“I still thought we were going to win, to be honest.”

De La Salle’s Alec Blair (33) reacts from the bench after he got injured in the second half of a NorCal Open basketball playoff game against Modesto Christian High at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

De La Salle, led by cool and collected coach Marcus Schroeder, battled until the end even without its best player. De La Salle took a 44-40 after Leo Ricketts canned a 3-pointer with 6:30 left.

Even after Sykes scored a quick five points to hand Modesto Christian the lead, Salkhi answered right back with a 3-pointer of his own to put De La Salle up 47-45. Modesto’s Myles Jones then countered with a layup to tie the scoreboard again. 

With two and a half minutes left, Balogun played through a foul and finished a quick push-shot to score his seventh and eighth points and give De La Salle a 49-47 lead.

“I’m proud of them,” Schroeder said about his team’s effort in the fourth quarter.

De La Salle’s David Balogun (42) attempt to make a shot against Modesto Christia’s Jeremiah Bernard (1) and Trevor Dickson (22) in the second half of a NorCal Open basketball playoff game at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

That lead lasted just 30 seconds, after which Crusader forward Marcus Washington slipped free for another layup to tie the game.

Neither team was able to score for the next two minutes. De La Salle missed a point-blank shot at the rim with around 35 seconds remaining to give Modesto the possession. 

It was one of several missed Spartan layups. 

“I think we usually make those, but credit to Modesto, because they played well,” Schroeder said. 

De La Salle’s defense forced Sykes to miss a short floater with only a few seconds remaining, but all they could do was watch as he put back the second-chance layup before running down the court in celebration. 

“I was just happy it wasn’t our last game,” Sykes said after scoring a game-high 18 points. 

Modesto Christian’s (11) and his teammates celebrate his 51-49 buzzer beater win against De La Salle High in the second half of a NorCal Open basketball playoff game at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

De La Salle ended its season 25-6. 

Modesto Christian (28-5) is back in the NorCal semifinals for the ninth time. It’s next opponent? Defensive juggernaut Salesian, whose coach Bill Mellis was in the DLS gym to watch the thriller and do some scouting. 

“It’s gonna be tough, and we’re going to have to find a way to score on them,” said Modesto coach Brice Fantazia, who called Salesian’s defense the best in NorCal. 

De La Salle’s Ibrahim Monawar (11) and Modesto Christian’s Alhassan Idrissu (13) hug each other after the Spartans lost 51-49 in a buzzer beater in the second half of a NorCal Open basketball playoff game at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 
De La Salle’s Alec Blair (33) makes a shot against Modesto Christia’s Jeremiah Bernard (1) in the first half of a NorCal Open basketball playoff game at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 
De La Salle’s Ibrahim Monawar (11) makes a shot against Modesto Christian High in the second half of a NorCal Open basketball playoff game at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 
De La Salle head coach Marcus Schroeder gives instructions to Ibrahim Monawar (11) from the sideline in the second half of a NorCal Open basketball playoff game against Modesto Christian High at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 
De La Salle’s Alec Blair (33) slowly heads back to the bench after he got injured in the second half of a NorCal Open basketball playoff game against Modesto Christian High at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 
De La Salle head coach Marcus Schroeder and the bench cheer from the sideline in the second half of a NorCal Open basketball playoff game against Modesto Christian High at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 
De La Salle’s Arshawn Salkhi (23) passes the ball against Modesto Christian in the first half of a NorCal Open basketball playoff game at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

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Author: Joseph Dycus

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