Arroyo Grande High’s basketball team opened up PAC 7 League play against St. Joseph on Wednesday hoping to outshoot a quality opponent.
Unfortunately, the Eagles couldn’t knock down many shots in the first half.
Then in the fourth quarter when point guard Matt Willkomm caught fire, scoring 10 points in a short span to help close a deficit to two with a minute left, the Eagles couldn’t make one final run to pull out the contest.
St. Joseph (7-3, 1-0 PAC 7) won 58-52 by forcing the Eagles (11-4, 0-1) to win it from the outside by implementing a zone defense that cluttered the paint, offering Arroyo Grande little space inside to work.
After cold shooting by several Eagles in the first half, Willkomm found the mark late in the game, tallying 19 to lead his team, and had a key steal in a final push in front of a packed house.
“We battled throughout the game,” said coach Ryan Glanville. “We had some lapses, though, like not making the smart play and taking bad shots in big possessions. Against a good team like St. Joe’s, that will nip you in the bud.”
The Knights were fueled by the strong play of three tall, physical players – Case Bruton, Curry Parham and Keith Datu – who combined for 45 of the team’s 58 points. Bruton led his squad with 20 points.
Despite a 42-31 deficit after scoring only seven points in the third quarter, the Eagles fought back in the fourth.
Down 10 points with about three minutes left, Willkomm led the Eagles on a furious comeback, draining a three-pointer to pull within 49-47 with about a minute left.
But a foul leading to St. Joseph free throws and then a turnover by the Eagles seconds later removed any opportunity of a thrilling come-from-behind win.
“We’re okay with teams playing a zone on us,” Willkomm said. “We’re a pretty good shooting team, but I feel like especially in the beginning we couldn’t hit. But we talked about getting better at a lot of the little things, like turnovers and rebounds. We’ll go back to practice to work and put the pieces together.”
Forwards Brennan Rivera and Andrew Midyett each had 11 points for the Eagles, who had won six of their previous seven non-league games coming in.
An early press used by the Knights forced the Eagles into a first quarter steal and half-court time violation. St. Joseph built a 20-14 lead after the first and stayed ahead the rest of the way, though the Eagles closed the gap to 27-24 at the half.
On the other end, the Eagles had trouble with the size and athleticism of Parham, a 6-3 junior, and Datu, a 6-7 junior, who threw down a dunk on a low post move. And the Knights were able to find more inside gaps in the low post.
Ball pressure on the Knights’ guards led to some turnovers and easy layups for Willkomm later in the game but it wasn’t enough.
“We can compete with any team in our league,” Glanville said. “We’ll have to be a more disciplined team and work to not turn over the ball. We got some good looks tonight and just didn’t shoot well.”