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SOUTHERN SECTION BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS : Mater Dei Needs Twist to Get Familiar Result

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Times Staff Writer

With 6:13 left in the third quarter of Mater Dei High School’s Southern Section 5-A quarterfinal playoff game against St. Anthony Friday, LeRon Ellis, Mater Dei’s 6-foot 11-inch center, was called for his fourth foul.

That elicited immediate approval from St. Anthony fans, and a sour expression on Ellis’ face.

Things could not have been finer for St. Anthony, which had outplayed Mater Dei to that point, trailed by only four points and now waved goodby to Ellis, arguably the best big man in Southern California, as he took a seat on the Mater Dei bench.

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Now, the twist.

Mater Dei went on to outscore St. Anthony in the third quarter, Ellis came back to dominate the fourth quarter and Mater Dei came away with a 68-57 victory at Long Beach City College.

Sure, Mater Dei (27-1) is seeded No. 1 in 5-A and, sure, Mater Dei is the defending 5-A champion, but until Ellis left the game with his fourth foul, the Monarchs looked like a very marginal basketball team.

At the heart of Mater Dei’s problems was shooting. The lack of it. The Monarchs made 10 of 30 shots (33%) in the first half.

Mater Dei could not shoot over a tight St. Anthony zone designed to smother Ellis, who came into the game averaging 23 points.

The Monarchs made only three shots from 15 feet or farther in the first half, which ended with the score tied, 23-23.

Ellis got his fourth foul with Mater Dei ahead, 28-24. It was then that Mater Dei’s players started to take advantage of driving lanes created by an extending St. Anthony zone sans Ellis.

Forward Kevin Rembert scored on a drive as did point guard Chris Patton. When they didn’t continue their drives to the basket, the Monarchs threw the ball outside to open players who finally started to make jump shots.

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Forward Erik Quigley made four jump shots in the quarter, Mater Dei made nine of 12 shots and led 43-34 by the end of the quarter. All of which completely baffled Gary McKnight, Mater Dei coach.

“I really can’t tell you why we started making those shots,” he said. “We started to drive more and kick the ball to the open man better, maybe that was it. But I really don’t know.”

Ellis, who had six points in the first half and three in the third quarter, was back in the fourth quarter and added 10 points as Mater Dei outscored St. Anthony, 25-23.

Ellis finished with 19 points. Quigley had 14, Rembert 11 and Patton 10.

“You’d have to say I played crummy,” Ellis said. “Which scares me because I was really up for this game. Maybe I was too up. . . . I was glad and I was cheering for the guys to do play well in the third quarter because I sure wasn’t.”

How well Ellis’ purported rival, St. Anthony guard Darrick Martin, played in this game is debatable.

Martin, who had 44 points in St. Anthony’s first-round victory over Long Beach Wilson, came into the game averaging 31 points. Martin got his 31, but he did it making 8 of 30 shots (27%).

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Martin was 15 of 15 from the free-throw line. St. Anthony, which made only 6 of 22 shots (27%) in the first half, made 23 of 27 free-throws in the game.

Mater Dei made 18 of 35 (51%) free throws.

Forward Mike Griffin, with 10 points, was the only other St. Anthony player to score in double figures.

Martin’s poor shooting did nothing to diminish his reputation. Ellis congratulated him with a low-five after a spinning shot in the key.

“He’s awesome,” Ellis said. “I’m glad I got to play against him. He’s really going to be something next season.”

Forced out: Al Herring is fired after nine seasons as Irvine High School basketball coach. Tom Hamilton’s story, Page 15.

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