PASADENA — As the second quarter ended Wednesday night at John Muir High School, Saugus’ Adrian McIntyre heaved up a shot well beyond halfcourt that eventually found its way through the bottom of the net.
It felt like maybe, just maybe, the Centurions would be able to overcome a tumultuous first half that included 18 turnovers.
Not even a make from halfcourt would be enough to get Saugus back on track in the opening round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2A tournament.
Saugus, the Foothill League runner-up, had its season come to a close with an 80-61 loss to Muir.
“We did what we told our guys not to do: play undisciplined,” said Saugus coach Alfredo Manzano. “(Muir) wanted to speed the game up and we fell into their trap and that’s what happens.”
To speed things up, Muir deployed a fullcourt press to open the second half. McIntyre, who led Saugus (20-8) with 23 points, had cut Muir’s lead to 31-26 with his buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
That lead grew to 50-33 just past the halfway point of the third quarter on a dunk from Hakeem Jenkins, who led Muir with 21 points.
“We knew that press was coming,” Manzano said. “We got caught up in trying to speed things up. That was the difference.”
Muir (21-7) entered the fourth quarter with a 53-34 advantage. Despite 16 fourth-quarter points from McIntyre, Saugus was held to its lowest point total since a 61-56 preleague win over La Canada on Jan. 6.
“I think, defensively, that’s where we gained our energy,” said Muir coach Simaine Stewart. “That’s been our style all year.
“ … Then we go up on them big and they have to play from behind on the road. That’s a tough spot.”Saugus struggled to work the ball down low all night, with 6-foot-8 Tasson Aubry-Thomas and 6-foot-7 Hunter Woods looming in the post for Muir.
The Cents checked in 6-foot-6 sophomore Cameron Nale toward the end of the first quarter and followed with a 10-0 run. That was enough to give Saugus a 15-13 lead going into the second quarter.
But superb nights from Muir’s Tiyon Martin (18 points) and Simaine Stewart Jr. (19 points) helped create the separation for the win.
“A big point of emphasis was to protect the ball and rebound and we didn’t take care of either one of those tonight,” Manzano said.
It also didn’t help that the Cents went 3-for-10 from the free-throw line.
The loss marked the final game for Saugus seniors Dylan Spring and Luke Bodeau, who had 14 and 10 points, respectively, to place second and third on the team.
Manzano was adamant in not using the team’s youth as any sort of excuse for falling in the playoff opener.
But that youth should certainly serve as a source of optimism, starting with McIntyre, who established himself as one of the Foothill League’s top talents as a sophomore.
The Cents also have two years remaining with Tyler Mehl and Stephen Tampus — both quality 3-point threats — along with Nale, giving them an option in the post.
Saugus was a game away from capturing its first Foothill League title in 35 years this season. That title may not be elusive too much longer for the Cents.