Coach Matt Knudson said his Atascadero High boys basketball team has been begging him the past two years to get entered into the Mission Prep Christmas Classic.
In their first appearance at the Central Coast’s premier tournament, the Greyhounds didn’t disapoint.
Jared Stuedemann hit a pair of free throws with 8.9 seconds left to go up by one, and Atascadero overcame a tremendous 3-point shooting display from Pasadena Maranatha’s Nick Springer to top the Minutemen 60-59 on Thursday.
“I feel like our whole team deserved that (win),” said Stuedeman, a senior guard who finished with 15 points and a perfect 8 for 8 from the foul line. “I felt like we had to have this one, so I thought those last two were going to go down no matter what.”
Springer hit 10 3-pointers for a game-high 30 points, including a stretch of four consecutive treys to put Maranatha (2-5) ahead 54-47 midway through the fourth quarter.
“When you play against a shooter like that, you’ve got to know where he is at all times,” Atascadero coach Matt Knudson said. “We did a good job in the third, but we lost track of him in the fourth and that hurt us.”
The Greyhounds (6-1) chipped away at the lead on the strength of 18 second-half points from senior Robbie Berwick.
Atascadero had a chance to tie or take the lead with 12.7 seconds remaining, but Berwick -- who had 11 in the quarter -- missed a pair of free throws to keep the score 59-58.
“I would be (kicking myself) if we lost the game, but I want Jared to succeed just as much as me,” Berwick said. “When he came through and hit those, I thought my brother came through for me and had my back.”
Maranatha’s Ron Gore couldn’t convert either of two free throws on the ensuing possession, and Stuedemann was fouled by 6-foot-9 Muusa Dama running up the court with 8.9 left on the clock.
Stuedemann, who entered the game averaging 8.8 points on just 32 percent shooting, calmly made both, and the Minutemen couldn’t get off a final shot to win.
“Jared is Jared; he’s a big-time player,” Berwick said. “Jared’s coming to play even if his shot’s not falling. He does so much else for us. ... I’m proud of him.”
Added Stuedemann: “I’ve been shooting hundreds of free throws trying to get my shot back. I felt good tonight, and our whole team worked hard.”
Joe Johnson had 12 points and fellow senior guard Connor Kim had 11. The pair also hit two 3-pointers apiece for the Greyhounds, who have won four straight since losing 74-65 to Mission Prep.
“It’s a great experience,” Johnson said. “This year, we were fortunate enough to get into the tournament. Now we’re able to strengthen our schedule and get ready for the regular season.”
Atascadero will face Grandview, 70-56 winners over Miramonte, tomorrow at 3 p.m. in the Elite Bracket semifinals. Maranatha will play Miramonte at 10:30 a.m.
The Greyhounds played the majority of the contest in a 2-3 zone in an effort neutralize the height advantage the Minutemen had with the towering Dama and the 6-foot-6 Gore.
“We were trying to pack it in,” Knudson said. “They’ve got two big boys down there, so we just wanted to clog it up.”
The plan worked in theory, as the two combined for just 10 points, but late closeouts left space for Springer to go off from downtown.
The 6-foot-5 senior forward had three 3s apiece in the first and second quarters before being held without a bucket in the third.
With Springer in check and Dama and Gore on the bench with foul trouble, the Greyhounds went to work midway through the penultimate quarter.
Reserve big man Sam Neely, playing with Kevin Woodard in foul trouble, hit a pair of free throws, and Johnson nailed a corner 3 with an assist from Berwick to put Atascadero up 43-42.
Johnson made a pair of free throws and another layup as the Greyhounds led 45-42 after three.
Maranatha led 30-26 at halftime despite Atascadero holding a 17-12 edge on the glass. The Greyhounds finished the game with 13 more rebounds than the Minutemen (35-22), but also had six more turnovers (20-14).
“I think we played OK,” Knudson said. “If we played great, we would have won by 15.”
Given the venue, his team is just glad it had the chance.
“We’ve got that one loss to Misson, but we’re not going to lose anymore,” said Stuedemann, whose team could face the Royals in Saturday’s finals. “We want to get this tournament.”
MISSION PREP 53, CYPRESS BAY 39
Mission Prep got a game-high 29 points from Quinton Adlesh and limited Cypress Bay to just 12 second-half points in the opening round of the Christmas Classic.
The two teams were tied 27-27 at halftime, before the Royals tightened on defense and held the school from Weston, Fla., to just six points in each of the final two quarters.
Brandon Jones scored 10 for Mission Prep (5-2), and Kyle Stewart chipped in nine — all in the fourth.
Ross Udine scored 22 points for Cypress Bay (6-6), including 14 in the first quarter.
Both Udine and Adlesh knocked down four 3-pointers in the first quarter, and the Mission Prep junior hit one in both the second and third.
Ian Stake was the only other Royal to score, going 3 of 5 from the foul line and making a field goal.
Mission Prep was 10 of 23 from the free-throw line, and Cypress Bay got to the line only five times, making three.
The Royals advance to the Elite Bracket semifinals, where they will face PAC 7 team Righetti at 6 p.m. Cypress Bay will play Mission Hills at