Cheikh N’diaye did a double-pump fist salute to the gallery of Army-Navy students sitting behind the Warriors’ basket in Viejas Arena Saturday.
It was a relieved, if rare show of emotion for N’Diaye, whose team had just survived a tense struggle with a tough Mater Dei Catholic squad in the San Diego Section IV finals.
Army-Navy’s 56-50 victory, its first in a championship final since 1986, guaranteed the Carlsbad cadets (27-4) a first-round, home game next week in the Southern California regional playoffs.
N’Diaye scored 14 points and had 8 rebounds and 4 blocked shots and guard Devin Watson, the linchpin in coach Tom Tarantino’s inside-out offense, had 22 points.
Late in the third quarter N’Diaye and his teammates had fallen behind 38-30. Watson still was looking for his shot and the Crusaders were coming down with most of the rebounds and policing the loose balls.
At that point the Warriors came alive as Watson’s three-point attempts began to fall and his side ignited a 21-3 run that produced a 51-41 lead.
A 9-0 Mater Dei volley closed the score to 51-50 but N’Diaye scored with 1:15 left and the Warriors finally put away their unheralded opponent from the supposedly basketball barren South Bay.