SAMMAMISH – All Paolo Banchero and the O’Dea High School boys basketball team could do was tip their cap and acknowledge the effort on the other side.
Top-ranked Eastside Catholic played with fire from the start and second-ranked O’Dea, the defending Class 3A state champion, couldn’t ever quite match that intensity.
Junior guard Nolan Hickman tallied 15 of his 29 points in the third quarter as the Crusaders kept O’Dea at arms’ length to score a big 83-74 victory in a Metro League Mountain Division tussle Monday night in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Eastside Catholic.
“They came out and all their players had batteries on their backs and they had a lot of energy,” said Banchero, a five-star recruit with offers from North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Gonzaga and Washington among others, after scoring 29 points himself. “At the start of the game they turned us over a couple of times which built their momentum. They jumped on us early.
“We put ourselves in a hole down 16 early, so we had to dig back out of it, but we weren’t able to.”
“That was definitely the plan,” Hickman said of the Crusaders’ fast start. “The plan was to come out here and punch them in the mouth as soon as possible. That’s what we did, came out here punched them in the mouth and started to do that every single quarter and we got the dub.”
Banchero scored 18 of his 29 points in the second half, but the Irish (10-3, 9-1 Metro Mountain Division) could never get closer than five points after falling behind by 19 early in the second quarter. The Irish committed untimely turnovers forced by EC’s pressure defense over the entire floor.
Hickman led five players in double-figure scoring and just like last year delivered the first punch in a two-game rivalry as Eastside Catholic (13-1, 10-0) took the solo lead in the Mountain Division.
Syon Blackmon added 12 points for the Crusaders and teammates Chika Nduka (11), Shane Nowell (10) and Jaylahn Tuimoloau (10) hit double figures.
But it was the much-improved Hickman who made the Irish pay in the second half with a mix of drives to the basket and three of his four three-pointers in a 3-minute, 51-second span.
Hickman turned his ankle in the final minutes and left the building afterward on crutches with his left ankle wrapped.
“That’s my brother and we’ve known each other since we were 6 years old and he’s always been a competitor,” Banchero said of the 6-foot-3 Hickman, who plays summer ball on Seattle Rotary with him. “He always goes at you, no matter what the setting is. He came out on his P’s and Q’s tonight. He’s a great player. I knew he was going to come out and play his A game and that’s what he did.”
The game originally was scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 14, but inclement weather postponed the contest for six days.
Eastside Catholic, ranked No. 18 nationally in the MaxPreps.com Xcellent 25 Writers’ Poll, was third in 3A state last season after falling to O’Dea 49-41 in the state semifinals.
The two teams split a pair of games in the 2018-19 season with O’Dea winning in the state semifinals after the Crusaders went into the Irish’s gym and scored a 69-63 double-overtime victory Jan. 8, 2019.
“We’ve got to win in March,” EC coach Brent Merritt said. “We know we’re going to see them a couple of more times. We expect to see them again.”