M.J. Cage steps up to help Mater Dei advance to Open Division final

M.J. Cage had 24 points and 14 rebounds in Mater Dei's 62-49 semifinal win over J.W. North. 

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Stanley Johnson had a message for his 6-foot-10 sophomore teammate M.J. Cage following the Monarchs’ Open Division quarterfinal win over Mayfair last Friday night. 

"Just dunk it on their head," Johnson said to Cage. 

It was an attempt to fire up his even-keeled teammate with bigger games ahead. He was also grooming him for what’s to come. Johnson’s high school career is winding down. Cage is going to receive even more attention in the coming years. The fouls and attempts to stop Cage from finishing plays will only get more aggressive.

The message was received as Cage’s 24 points and 14 rebounds were extremely beneficial in helping the Monarchs defeat J.W. North 62-49 at the Meruelo Athletic Center before a sold out crowd on Tuesday night to earn a berth in Saturday’s Open Divison final at Honda Center against Chino Hills. 

At least one of us has to step up. It just happened that I was in the right spots at the right time, so it just helped my team out a lot.

M.J. Cage

The loss was the first on the court for J.W. North this season. Their previous two losses were by forfeit. 

Although both teams were lethargic to start, it was the Monarchs (30-0) starting the game on a 7-0 run. Cage had two dunks during that span on a night in which whenever given the opportunity, he attacked the basket with authority. 

After Johnson’s 42-point outburst in the Monarchs’ last outing, head coach Gary McKnight implored whoever would listen that his team wasn’t just one dimensional. That thought rang true on Tuesday. 

It wasn’t the finest outing for Johnson but the Monarchs still found a way to come out on top. 

"Stanley had an OK game and you still win the semis, that’s pretty good," McKnight said. 

Mater Dei’s leading scorer had just five points at halftime and just seven points through three quarters. 

J.W. North’s 1-3-1 zone created havoc for the Monarchs at times. The Huskies (25-3) forced nine turnovers in the first half but couldn’t capitalize, scoring just two points off of those turnovers and trailed 27-16 at the half. 

Their fortunes changed in the third quarter thanks to a 15-0 run that held Mater Dei scoreless for nearly five minutes. 

After the momentary lapse it was Cage coming through with an old-fashioned three-point play to stop the run and put Mater Dei up 32-31. 

"At least one of us has to step up," Cage said. "It just happened that I was in the right spots at the right time, so it just helped my team out a lot."

Johnson says Cage’s outburst was due, in part, to what J.W. North did defensively. 

"They picked their poison but by doing that they left one of the best post players in the country, I think, alone on the block and he ended up benefitting," said Johnson, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. 

While the Monarchs still have more to accomplish this season, Tuesday provided a sneak peek into the future of the program. 

"It’s all because of my work with him," McKnight kidded about Cage. "I work (with him) on his post moves all the time. I have a Nerf basket and he has a big basket and I show him what I want."