The Millikan boys basketball team was shifty around the perimeter, but it was Santa Clarita Christian that got to the heart of things in a the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA tournament, winning 90-70.
“You’re always concerned about the first game of any tournament or playoffs and so we had a good week of practice,” said SCCS coach James Mosley. “I felt like the guys were really focused and engaged and I was worried, I was concerned about the team just because they have a lot of athletes and bodies, but I think this is a great win for us.”
The Cardinals (7-21 overall) went on a seven-point run to open the game, a scoring spree that was capped by a 3-pointer from Leroy Thompson.
Stephon Leonard scored the first points for the Rams on a 3-pointer with 5:42 remaining in the first quarter, but Kevin Stone heated up to drain a 3 on one possession, then on the very next possession grabbed a steal and took it coast to coast for a dunk.
“Mentally just like now that I’m a senior, I’ve gotten a better feel for the game,” Stone said. “That’s what Coach Mosley is always talking to me about about, having a better feel for the game. I need to make the right moves at the right times.”
Justin Collins followed up with a layup to make it 16-3 with 3:30 to go, then Josh O’Garro corralled an offensive rebound on a missed Collins layup a minute later.
Millikan’s Myles Carmon hit a trey with 40 seconds left to bring the score to 24-8 as the first quarter came to a close.
Millikan (15-12) was able to get some points on the board in the second quarter with two 3-pointers from Leonard. The shots continued to fall for Stone, as he finished with nine points in the quarter, as the Cardinals defense boxed the Rams out and forced them to take tough shots.
“Our coach just preaches rebound and boxing out the whole week and the whole season, so the fact that we were able to box out their big guys and their guards and pull down some big rebounds was important for us,” said Thompson.
Ethan Schwesinger scored on a layup, Thompson drained a 3-pointer and Caden Starr made a layup with 2:30 left in the second quarter for a 47-32 score headed into halftime.
The Cards’ Justin Collins distributed the ball well at point guard, getting all but one player on the SCCS bench points in the game.
Collins took over point guard duties shortly after Christmas and has filled the role admirably since former point guard Noah Veluzat transferred to Valencia.
“He’s just really unselfish,” Stone said. “Ever since last year he’s away just been that selfless player that running the point and just awesome because he has times where he can shoot the ball, but he looks for his teammates first, for shooters, and it’s just unselfish.”
Millikan was able to capitalize on 3-point shooting in the third quarter and draw a few fouls as the Cards kept a healthy lead but appeared relaxed at times.
“In the first half I feel like we had a lot of energy, we got a lot of rebounds and steals on defense,” Thompson said. “But I feel like in the second half we got a little tired and gave up some fouls and easy buckets.”
Collins sank two free throws to give the Cardinals a 75-60 lead with 5:45 left in the game, then O’Garro went in for a dunk 10 seconds later. O’Garro finished with eight points in the fourth quarter and 19 points overall in the game. He made a two-footer for the final points of the game with 1:41 left.
Stone led SCCS with 27 points, followed by O’Garro and Thompson, who each logged 19. Starr finished with 16 points.
The Cardinals move on to the second round of the CIF-SS Division 3AA tournament and play on Tuesday against the winner of the game between Mark Keppel and Citrus Hill.