There was nothing unfamiliar about Monday night’s contest between Riverdale Baptist and Princeton Day High Schools. The pair of Capital Beltway powers had seen each other three times before — the Storm won two — pregame handshakes had since been traded for quick hugs, and the thousand or so fans squished into the tight Riverdale Baptist gym knew full well that a high-flying, electrifying display of basketball was about to unfold.
It was all familiar, except for one aspect: the occasion. Monday night was the inaugural Capital Beltway championship, a game featuring a burgeoning rivalry, with trophies and awards on the line, for once, a physical reminder that they had something to really play for.
And play they did.
Nigel Johnson vs. Aquille Carr; Chinanu Onuaku vs. Emmanuel Omogbo; Khary Doby vs. Anton Waters; it all lived up to the hype.
“It’s an awesome night, fantastic crowd tonight, great atmosphere, two titans, two big-time programs going back and forth at one another,” said Riverdale Baptist coach Lou Wilson after his Crusaders took home the first-ever league title, beating Princeton Day 95-89. “It was a great entertaining game for the fans.”
The many representatives from George Washington University in attendance will return to D.C. with glowing reports of Johnson, who has committed to play for the Colonials. Later named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, Johnson scored a game-high 36 points, burying many long-distance 3-pointers, breaking down the defense with dizzying dribble drives, even rising up for a two-handed dunk midway through the second quarter.
“This one has to be one of my best ones,” Johnson said. “This has to be one of the biggest games I’ve ever played in and to play that well, get the W, it’s got to be one of the biggest games I’ve played.”
Onuaku was a little quieter in his accomplishments than Johnson, but just as impressive. He finished with 20 points, missed just one shot from the field, grabbed 13 rebounds — seven defensive, six offensive — swatted one shot and altered the path of any Storm player attacking the rim.
“I ain’t never played this well before,” Onuaku said. “Today I was just feeling good.”
Wilson has coached several NBA-caliber talents, including Michael Beasley, Nolan Smith and Thomas Robinson. Onuaku, he said afterwards, is right up there, if not better, than any of those in that trio were at his age.
“We’re 26-10 not only because of our scoring, we’re 26-10 on the back of Chinanu Onuaku,” Wilson said. “I’ve been coaching a long time, he’s the best defensive rebounder in the area. He gobbles up balls.”
Robert Tyler was also paramount in Riverdale’s fourth quarter surge, scoring 13 of his 15 points — his second highest total of the season — in the final 8 minutes.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” said Tyler, who hit a critical 3-pointer at the beginning of the fourth quarter to put the Crusaders up four. “We needed some points too, so I decided to be aggressive, go at the basket.”
But, for how well Riverdale played from top to bottom, it wouldn’t be a Princeton Day game without a little glitz from the Crimestopper. Carr scored a team-high 26 points, several of which, per usual, came on hanging, twisting finishes in the lane and 3-pointers off of his signature crossover. He got his points, as most would expect as he does averaging 27.7 a night, but it also took him 27 shots to get there, and he shot at a 29.6 percent clip on the evening. Meanwhile, teammate and Bishop McNamara transfer Jerron Martin, finished with 23 points on 50 percent shooting.
After the nets were cut down and the fans filed out into another crisp February night, Johnson hung back, taking picture after picture, surrounded by a group of youngsters decked out in George Washington gear.
One held up a sign that read: “#23 Nigel= The Crimestopper Stopper.”
Riverdale Baptist 95, Princeton Day 89
Riverdale 24 21 24 26 — 95
Princeton Day 18 27 25 19 — 89
Riverdale (26-10; 8-2): Nigel Johnson 36; Chinanu Onuaku 20; Robert Tyler 15; Marquis Powell 8; Khary Doby 8; Ronald Whitaker 5; Raeese Hunt 3.
Princeton Day (32-12; 8-2): Aquille Carr 26; Jerron Martin 23; Anton Waters 16; Emmanuel Omogbo 13; Xavier Johnson 6; Brandon Better 2.