In the second matchup of the season, after handing Valencia its first league loss of the season, the Hart boys basketball team hosted Canyon at Hart High School in a thriller on Friday.
Although both teams are coming off two crucial Foothill League wins, it was Canyon that came out with a fire and grit that Hart was unable to match and faced an early deficit.
“They came out with more energy,” said Hart head coach Tom Kelly. “Give them credit, they played hard.”
Hart regrouped, held the Cowboys to six points in the second quarter and squeaked out a 60-55 win to remain in sole possession of second place in Foothill League standings.
Hart (16-10 overall, 6-2 Foothill League) was led by junior Dillon Barrientos, who finished with game-high 18 points, five rebounds and five assists in the win.
After a sluggish first quarter, Barrientos scored 14 of his 18 points in the second quarter and none were more important than the six consecutive free throws that he sank with under 30 seconds left in the game.
“I’m just saying to myself, ‘If I knock it down, we are winning,’” Barrientos said of his mindset down the stretch. “That’s what happened today and we got the ‘W.’”
Canyon (13-13, 3-5) jumped out to 15-8 lead with the play of Anthony Gallo, Anthony Regalado and Ethan Rodi as the three each nailed perimeter shots and held a five-point lead after one quarter, up 19-14.
Adding to the lead, Canyon guard Bryan Johnston wiggled and maneuvered his way into tight spaces and found teammates Matt Heyne and Miles Davis inside the lane to keep the Cowboys in front.
“He does a lot the intangibles that people don’t recognize,” said Canyon head coach Ali Monfared. “He gets deflections, does a good job of moving around in the key and does a lot of the little things that people don’t recognize as much. He’s invaluable to our team.”
Ty Penberthy responded by hitting two threes on back-to-back possessions to give Hart its first lead of the game with under five minutes left in the half.
Penberthy finished with 11 points and five rebounds, scoring eight points in the first half of play.
Coming out of halftime with a five-point advantage, Hart big man Ruke Agbabune stepped up in a big way crashing the boards, blocking would-be layups and offensive putbacks to keep the team ahead.
Agbabune recorded a double-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds. He added five blocks.
“He was tough as nails tonight and he can do that every night,” Kelly said about Agbabune. “We keep getting better on defense, we can go as far as we want.”
Canyon countered with the trio of Miles Davis, Connor Cooper and Matt Heyne, who returned from a two-game absence and got back within striking range.
Davis scored seven of his 12 points down the stretch by working the offensive boards. He finished one rebound shy of a double-double with nine rebounds.
Cooper and Heyne used their length and athleticism and made it hard for Hart to get shots inside the lane.
Heyne finished with 10 points and four rebounds, while Cooper had four points, five rebounds, two steals and a block.
“We preach going inside out. All three of them have a little different styles, although they are all inside guys,” Monfared said. “Miles is kind of a wing inside guy and he elevates, Matt is so skilled and Connor is so tough. They all bring a nice mix to our group and we are very happy to have them on our team.”
After a Regalado top-of-the-key 3-pointer, the Cowboys got within one point of Hart, but Barrientos converted his free throws down the stretch to preserve the Indians’ win.
“A win is an important thing at this point in the season, they just played harder than we did tonight,” Kelly said. “We have to play every game like we are playing Valencia.”
The Indians are back at home against West Ranch, while the Cowboys host Saugus at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday
“First off, I want to credit Hart,” Monfared said. “They’re a great team, great coach and great players. Credit to them for the win. It’s a tough loss, but we will bounce back tomorrow because that’s the resiliency of these kids. Again, credit to Hart they made the plays they needed to in the fourth quarter. We scored six points in the second, which was kind of our own undoing. We will watch film, see what we can fix and get ready for Saugus.”