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O’Dowd closes pandemic-shortened season on upswing

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OAKLAND — Lou Richie was standing outside the Bishop O’Dowd gym, eating a postgame meal catered by the mother of one of his program’s all-time great players, Ivan Rabb. The Dragons had just won a fifth consecutive basketball game to close their pandemic-shortened season, rallying Saturday from eight points behind in the fourth quarter to defeat University-San Francisco 59-57.

The two players expected to lead O’Dowd this spring did not play. Jalen Lewis, a 6-foot-8 sophomore rated the state’s top prospect in his class by ESPN, watched from the bench after recently injuring his wrist. Marsalis Roberson, the Bay Area News Group’s player of the year last season, left the team earlier this spring and moved to Cal on Saturday to start his college career.

“His mom sent me a picture,” Richie said.

The Dragons were firing on all cylinders when the 2020 season ended, with Roberson and Lewis leading the way. They had beaten Archbishop Mitty in a regional semifinal and were preparing to play for the Northern California Open Division championship when the remainder of the state playoffs were canceled because of the pandemic.

YEARBOOK: Check out our best photos from unprecedented prep sports year

The pieces didn’t easily fall back into place this spring. By the time O’Dowd played its first game of the 2021 season, it had been 416 days since the jubilant scene after the victory at Mitty.

O’Dowd opened this season with a 30-point win at San Leandro but then lost back-to-back games, 58-54 at home to Mitty and 69-67 at Salesian.

An overtime victory at De La Salle softened some of the stings from those defeats. But then came a loss at Campolindo, followed by nearly two weeks of quarantine after a positive COVID-19 test within the O’Dowd program.

“Never before,” Richie said Saturday, describing this season. “I just wish we had a summer and six months to coach these kids, the less experienced. But we can’t control everything in life. You take what you can get and hopefully they appreciate it, them and their families.”

In its first game after quarantining, May 24 at Clayton Valley Charter, O’Dowd lost in overtime 60-58 on a layup at the buzzer. The Dragons didn’t lose again as their five-game season-ending win streak included two victories over Piedmont, a narrow win over Alameda and the tense comeback Saturday against University, one of the breakout teams of the spring. The Devils brought a 13-1 record to the matinee on O’Dowd’s campus in the Oakland hills.

Less than 24 hours earlier, O’Dowd won at nearby Piedmont 76-70 to complete an undefeated league season. University beat Piedmont by 19 points last weekend.

The Devils gave O’Dowd all it could handle.

Two 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter stretched University’s lead to eight points. But O’Dowd responded with a 10-0 run, setting up a back-and-forth final few minutes of the game and season.

A basket by senior Jarin Edwards gave O’Dowd the lead for good, 54-52.

Senior Henry Palmer’s steal near midcourt and drive for a layup with 47 seconds left made it a two-possession game, 56-52.

Two free throws by junior Cameron Brown with 16.4 seconds to play and one by senior Taj Phillips with two seconds remaining accounted for O’Dowd’s final points, making the postgame soul-food spread in the gym next door to the main gym all the more enjoyable for the players and coaches.

Edwards led O’Dowd (9-4) with 18 points. Brown had 11 points and Phillips finished with nine.

“It felt great to finish out my four years on a win,” Edwards said. “The same way we finished out last year with a win. A special group of guys.”

It was probably fitting that Phillips, a senior point guard who ended last season with 19 points against Mitty, was on the free-throw line to end this game.

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