Millikan freshman Jackson Cryst was washing blood off his uniform at halftime of the CIF State Division IV boys’ basketball regional quarterfinals on Thursday night, and he didn’t mind.
“I had to think that the pain of the game is temporary but winning lasts forever,” Cryst said. “It’s about sacrificing your body and playing as hard as you can.”
Cryst did exactly that while delivering 12 rebounds and seven blocks in a 57-51 overtime victory against visiting Sunny Hills.
“I didn’t think it was going to be a crazy night like this where I’d have to block so many shots and go through that adversity,” said Cryst, who was dealing with a bloody nose for most of the night. “I realized at halftime that I was going to have to turn it up and use more energy from the crowd.”
After Sunny Hills got a pair of late 3-pointers from Johan Kwon to force overtime, Millikan got two quick buckets from Kamaury Washington to start the extra period. Fellow senior Eric Bonales drilled a 3-pointer of his own with about a minute left to give the Rams the lead for good.
“If I’m open I’m going to shoot it,” Bonales said. “My teammates found me open and I love them for that. Those are my brothers. They’ve always got my back so I have to get their back.”
“I’m always okay if Eric shoots it, especially in the right flow of the offense,” Millikan coach Curtis Boyer said. “I always have faith in him to do that.”
Washington scored a game-high 21 points and six of them came in overtime. Bonales and Donovan Desha each scored nine points. Sunny Hills, a CIF-SS Division 4AA semifinalist, was led by Kwon’s 16 points, but star forward Dylan Lawson was held to 14 points by Cryst and company.
“I always believed in these kids,” Boyer said. “It’s our season and that’s why we put it on the back of our shirts. It was getting the kids to buy in because the coaches all believe in them.”
The game was full of turnovers and fouls so there was never a good offensive rhythm, but once again Millikan fell behind early as it’s done in the last three postseason games. Sunny Hills led 15-12 after the first quarter.
Millikan got a string of steals created by Washington, Bonales and Ruben Anglo that turned into easy layups at the other end. The Rams outscored Sunny Hills 18-9 in the second quarter and led 30-24 at halftime.
Bonales didn’t care that the game was choppy because of all the stoppages and loud crowd reaction to the close calls.
“I like it because it gets your adrenaline pumping,” he said. “And we have our student section right here, the best one in Long Beach, and they always have our back cheering us on no matter what’s happening.”
Jackson and the Rams turned up the defensive heat in the third quarter that only saw a total of 18 points scored. Boyer told Jackson that he’d be on an island guarding Lawson.
“I just told him he could guard that guy, and we could live with him scoring 10 to 15 points if he just walled up and we got out on shooters,” Boyer said. “It’s a struggle that (Cryst) also plays volleyball and every time he sees the ball he wants to spike it. I told him to just wall up and guys are going to give you easy blocks, and he’s starting to listen. It’s a matter of him growing throughout the season as a freshman on varsity and figuring it out.”
Bonales had a 3-pointer roll around and in with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter to put Millikan up 46-40. But the next two offensive possessions for the Rams were a turnover and missed free throws. Meanwhile, Kwon hit consecutive 3-pointers to tie the game with about 30 seconds left.
Both teams got contested looks at a possible game winner but the game went to overtime, which seemed to inspire even more noise from the home crowd and large student section. It was also clear in overtime that Millikan was the more calm squad.
“Our coaches do a good job of calling timeouts so we can slow it down and reset,” Bonales said. “We just have to become disciplined and run our plays.”
Chad Nguyen hit a 3-pointer with about a minute left in overtime to give Sunny Hills a 51-50 lead, but Millikan finished the game on a 7-0 run thanks to Bonales’ 3-pointer plus higher defensive intensity and better free throw shooting than the Lancers.
“Our team is full of high IQ players and everybody really wants to win,” Jackson said. “We want to win more than every team we play. I think that’s what it really comes down to in the playoffs.”
Millikan moves on to host the CIF State Division IV regional semifinal on Saturday against Valley Torah. Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. but may have to be rescheduled because of the Orthodox Jewish high school’s religious limitations on Saturday.
Stay tuned to The562.org for the latest updates.