SALIDA -- It's been a long time since Reeves Nelson felt nervous before a basketball game.
But just before Modesto Christian took the floor for its game against Merced in the first round of the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoops Classic, there they were: Butterflies.
"There was a little tingling in my stomach," Nelson said. "First time playing each year, I feel it a little bit."
After the game, the standing-room-only crowd was tingling.
Nelson scored 39 in his first game back after knee surgery in the fall, countering a 50-point night by Bears guard Allen Huddleston, in a 94-89 Crusaders win Friday night.
MC moves on to play Inglewood in a quarterfinal tonight at 8:30 p.m. Merced plays Colony of Ontario in a consolation game at 10:30 a.m.
Nelson and Huddleston put on a show.
Huddleston, a guard who will play for the University of the Pacific next year, rarely passed up an open shot. He fired away from all over the court, connecting for seven 3-pointers as well as driving inside for layups and fouls (he was 9 for 10 from the free-throw line).
"(Huddleston) worked very hard for those shots, but he still made them," Modesto Christian coach Gary Porter said. "He's a Division I player for a reason."
The UCLA-bound Nelson grabbed at least 15 rebounds, and also made several passes for assists. He scored 35 points in the final three quarters.
Nelson missed the Crusaders' first three games of the season, still recuperating from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, an injury suffered while playing football. He didn't show much rust.
"His knee is fine," Porter said. "He did get extremely tired, though. It's just a matter of conditioning at this point."
Merced took a 76-74 lead with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, after a 3-pointer and mid-range jumper by Huddleston. But Nelson followed with an offensive rebound and putback to tie it up, then had a breakaway dunk for the lead.
Huddleston kept firing away, and got the Bears to within 92-87 after a lay-up -- giving him 50 points -- with 47 seconds left.
But the Crusaders made two of four free throws to ice the game.
The MC tournament scoring record was set in 2002, when Taft of Woodland Hills guard Jordan Farmar -- now with the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers -- scored 55 in a game.
"He was in the zone," said Porter of Huddleston. "We told our guys to double him, but I don't think it would have mattered."
Nelson gave the Bears' interior defense just as much trouble. He fouled out two Merced post players while grabbing rebounds and getting to the free-throw line.
"Our challenge to Reeves is 30 (points) and 20 (rebounds), every night," Porter said. "He gets that, and we'll be in most games."
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 578-2300.