A busy week ended with a loss for Saugus boys’ basketball (8-5) as the team dropped its non-league matchup on Friday night at Sierra Canyon (10-2).
Trailblazers forward Isaiah Elohim exploded in the first quarter, registering 10 of his game-high 20 points in his team’s third straight win.
The Centurions would never lead but played tight throughout the first half.
Senior guard Max Tengan was exceptional for Saugus. Tengan consistently shook off his defenders for open jumpers on his way to a team-high 16 points.
“The biggest thing we wanted to do is not overthink and not let the moment get to us,” said Saugus head coach Alfredo Manzano. “We did a poor job when we played West Ranch. I thought this could be a great opportunity for us to improve in that area, which we did, we came out like I know we were capable of. The biggest part was keeping them out of transition, which is where they’re best at.”
Elohim was doing all the heavy lifting early as he scored the Blazers’ first eight points. However, Justin Pippen would check in midway through the first and score a quick five points off the bench for Sierra Canyon.
Saugus had a chance to cut the lead back down to two points but a turnover led to a transition slam for Elohim on the other end as time expired.
Both teams had a scoring flurry in the first three minutes of the second quarter. The Blazers didn’t have an answer for Tengan until senior Ahmir Brown checked into the game. Brown was glued to the Saugus point guard, denying him the ball and gifted him no space to drive two days before Christmas.
Sierra also showed more full court press from the second quarter and on. The team was doing anything it could to slow down Tengan and force another Centurion into a tough shot.
The defensive adjustments worked wonders and the Centurions only managed four points in the final five minutes of play in the first half. However, the team was only down 37-27 and Manzano felt his group was in a good place to fight back into the game.
“Our energy and composure was good in the beginning, everything was in the first half,” said Manzano. “Second half it’s not like we lacked in that but that’s an elite, college-level pressure.”
The Blazers exploded in the third quarter behind more great defense and exploiting their size difference over Saugus. Sierra posted 25 points in the third quarter while the Centurions struggled and put up just nine.
Sierra Canyon’s full-court pressure wouldn’t be called off until about two minutes left in the game with the team up nearly 40 points. The defensive efforts led the team to its big lead as Saugus had shown it could put up quick points if given enough space.
The Blazers finished with five players in double figures with Bronny James scoring 11, Jimmy Oladokun registering 14 points and Ashton Hardway scoring 13.
It was a wild week for the Centurions, who played five games in as many days. The team finished in third place at the Faith Baptist Tournament after winning the bronze game 69-49 over Grant. Saugus’ three wins in the week were blowouts with an average point differential of 21.
Manzano will never turn down any opportunity to play tough opponents due to Saugus’ competitiveness and opportunities that can arise for his players.
“Everyone thought we were crazy playing a fifth game this week at Sierra,” said Manzano. “But with our preparations, I feel good. We’re prepared to handle a game like that. Our guys came out on a Friday after a long week with good legs and I can’t complain.”
“I have a guy with D3 offers,” said Manzano. “If games like this come knocking on our door, I’ll never say no. Then maybe that D3 turns into a D2 or D1 offer.”
The Centurions would be right back in tourney action on Monday, heading to the Damien Classic. Saugus is competing in the Silver Division with an opening-round matchup against a Damien returning champ in Crean Lutheran.