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It was a tale of two halves for the Saugus boys basketball team on Wednesday night, as the Centurions used a strong second half performance to put away Mark Keppel High of Alhambra, 82-68, at home in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2A playoffs.

The win advances Saugus (18-9) to the second round where it will face Dos Pueblos of Goleta on the road on Friday night, and brings Mark Keppel’s season to an end with a 15-13 record.

Zach Phipps of Saugus led all scorers with 33 points, but when asked about his individual game he was quick to push the spotlight onto his teammates and coaching staff.

“At halftime, coach told us we needed to move the ball and play harder on defense, and we really responded,” said Phipps. “Coach is really keen on defense and it’s a huge part of our program.”

The halftime talk Phipps was referring to must have been something, as the third quarter saw Saugus stretch a six-point lead into a 20-point lead through tenacious pressing defense and open-court playmaking.

MORE BOYS HOOPS: Hart makes early playoff exit after loss to Village Christian

“The press really fits our tempo on offense. Our defense creates a lot of our offense,” said Saugus coach Bill Bedgood. “We tried to make it a track meet and they (Mark Keppel) showed a lot of fatigue in the third quarter.”

Mark Keppel lost despite 31 points from senior Nick Fong, but the Aztecs field a team comprised mostly of underclassmen and have a lot to look forward to in the coming years.

Aside from Phipps, Saugus benefited from Anthony McIntyre’s 20 points, mostly in transition, and lefty Luke Bodeau’s 16 points from tough inside buckets. The defensive efforts from Jeremy Glinoga and Micah Tobon didn’t go unnoticed either, as they helped hold Mark Keppel to only eight points in a standout third quarter.

Just how far can this Saugus team go during the postseason?

“We’re playing hard and coming together at the right time, and we expect great things,” Phipps said. “We want to make history for Saugus.”

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