|Sequoia overrun by St. Francis’ 22-2 scoring spree in CCS Open Division boys’ basketball opener|
|February 25, 2017, 05:00 AM By Terry Bernal Daily Journal|
SUNNYVALE — For one quarter of basketball, the Sequoia Cherokees looked poised to make a Cinderella run in the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs.
Then West Catholic Athletic League power St. Francis turned up the defense and took over the game, as the No. 4-seed Lancers (18-7) took control in the second quarter to down No. 5 Sequoia 67-61 Friday night at Fremont High School.
With Sequoia (23-5) jumping out to a 17-7 lead, St. Francis answered with a 22-2 run. Sequoia shot just 38.5 percent from the floor throughout, including an abysmal 4 of 17 in the second quarter. But it was a letdown by the Sequoia defense that caused the tide to turn, according to senior point guard N’Jai LeBlanc Jr.
“We weren’t worried about the shots, we were worried a lot more about defense,” LeBlanc said. “We had a lot of breakdowns. It’s such a quick first step on the guards, we had to go to zone. And they just shot the lights out — literally.”
LeBlanc was referring to a moment late in the game when the Fremont gym experienced a momentary power outage. But the game was in hand for St. Francis well before that.
While LeBlanc led all scorers with 24 points, and Cherokees junior center Ziggy Lauese pulled down a game-high 19 rebounds, it was Lancers guard Logan Johnson who ran the court with an attitude. The junior racked up a team-high 20 points and was content to jaw with officials all night long, even down the stretch St., Francis in control.
It was Johnson who forced Sequoia out of its comfort zone of the man-to-man defense. But to no avail. Not only did Johnson beat the Cherokees to the cylinder, it was his assist pass to senior forward Nick Miro that gave the Lancers the lead at 21-19 midway through the second quarter. Johnson finished with four assist and three blocked shots.
“[Johnson] is so good, we were trying to help N’Jai out,” Sequoia head coach Fine Lauese said. “We picked up man but at 15 seconds (on the shot clock) we dropped it down into our zone just to help out. And a couple times it worked, but we just struggled picking up our man.”
St. Francis ran deep than just its star junior though. It seemed any combination of Lancers on the floor at a given time found a way to shine. While sophomore guard Oscar Pedraza got on a roll in the second half to finish with 12 points, it was junior center Tyler Manoa who helped take over the paint in doing battle with Ziggy Lauese.
Manoa — who commutes from Hayward to Mountain View every day to attend St. Francis — totaled eight points and six rebounds. With the exception of two points, all of those numbers came amid St. Francis’ 22-2 outburst in the first half.
“We knew what the focus was,” St. Francis head coach Mike Motil said, “that Ziggy’s a great player, he’s a force underneath; the point guard, LeBlanc, can score the basketball. And they have a lot of kids that can shoot the basketball. So, they’re a very underrated team.”
But the Cherokees didn’t play up to the standard that led them to the Peninsula Athletic League Boys’ Basketball Tournament championship, helping pave their way into the CCS Open Division. Five first-quarter turnovers were a show-stopper in Sequoia’s fast start, cooling LeBlanc after an eight-point opening period.
Sequoia tends to live and die with LeBlanc from beyond the arc, but he managed just three 3s in the game, a product of St. Francis’ defense sticking with him all night, allowing him few looks from the outside. The result was a Sequoia offense lacking rhythm over the final three quarters.
“St. Francis just did everything better than we did,” Fine Lauese said. “Clearly the more disciplined team won tonight. We didn’t shoot well. Our defense was really off. So, all the credit goes to St. Francis.”
The Cherokees glimpsed notions of a comeback, opening the second half on a 10-4 run to take a quick 40-39 lead on a jumper by Zach Bene. With the score tied at 43, however, St. Francis kicked it into gear — fueled by a pair of 3s by Pedraza — to go on a 12-4 run to seal the win.
“I kept thinking (the shooting would come around) because through the season the guys come out and come through in the second half,” Fine Lauese said. “But, it didn’t come around.”
With the loss, Sequoia now looks forward to the CIF Northern California tournament as an automatic qualifier with its CCS Open Division berth.
“We’re moving forward,” Fine Lauese said. “We don’t have time to sit there and pout because some of these teams we’re going to play, they’re good. So we have to get back to work Monday.”
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