Troy Norris held the ball, calmly waiting for the closing seconds to tick away. As the buzzer sounded, the point guard for the Atascadero High boys basketball team gave Paso Robles’ Jake Murray a hug and smiled.
Norris’ Greyhounds had just beaten the archrival Bearcats, 53-43, to claim the 45th annual Atascadero Christmas Classic championship on Wednesday afternoon in Ewing Gym. Norris, a 5-foot-10 junior, finished with a game-high 18 points and was named tournament MVP.
“It’s huge for us,” Norris said of the win. “We’re a young team; (the Bearcats) are very experienced, pretty much having their whole starting five return (from last season). It was huge for us to come out and beat them.”
The Greyhounds (10-3) jumped out to a 7-0 lead early, and led 11-3 after the first quarter. Paso Robles didn’t make its first field goal until a minute and 35 seconds remained in the period.
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The Bearcats (8-5) got themselves back in the contest in the second, though. A little more than two minutes into the quarter, Murray claimed a steal, headed up court and bounced a feed to Lonnie Watson, who came swooping in from the left wing and slammed home a thunderous two-handed dunk that cut the lead to 15-10.
Paso Robles tied the game 18-18, but soon lapsed, closing the half by giving up seven unanswered points — the final three of which came on a running, half-court bomb by Hayden Mislavsky as time expired.
“After Lonnie gave them a huge uplift (with the dunk),” Norris said, Mislavsky’s buzzer-beater “kind of stopped their little spark.”
Atascadero extended its lead after the break, as Norris converted a lengthy alley-oop on a fastbreak into a layup for a 43-28 advantage late in the third.
“He just gets to the ball so quick,” Atascadero coach Jerry Tamelier said of Norris, who last season was the only underclassman to earn All-PAC 7 league honors. “He’s just so active.”
Norris, despite often being the shortest player on the floor, had two key put-backs on rebounds in the key down the stretch.
“They weren’t really attempting to box me out, because usually the point guard gets back on defense,” Norris said.
Mislavsky finished with 10 points, followed by Matt O’Connell’s eight and Sam McMillan’s six. O’Connell and McMillan made the all-tournament team.
“We did a good job on the boards, we defended well and I thought our spacing was good,” Tamelier said. “We just had a real strong four quarters of basketball.”
Watson, a 6-3 senior guard, hit a trio of 3-pointers and finished with 17 points.
“He’s one of the better shooters that has played in this area for quite some time,” Tamelier said of Watson. “You’ve got to make him work. We really wanted to chase him and not give him separation.”
Brandon Todd had 13, and Adam White chipped in six for Paso Robles. Watson and Todd were all-tournament selections. The Bearcats entered the game averaging a 30.5-point margin of victory at the tournament with wins over Templeton and Pioneer Valley.
“We played poorly on offense,” Paso Robles coach Scott Larson said. “We can be a better team than we showed today.”
Paso Robles, which had 10 fewer baskets than Atascadero, settled for hasty perimeter looks, Larson said.
“We’ve got a couple of guys who can shoot jump shots, but we can get jump shots any time in the offense, and we’re taking them early,” he said. “We’ve got to talk about being able to get people open and getting shots we want.
“I hope my players realize that it’s a team game, and a fist is a lot stronger than five fingers stuck out,” Larson added. “Until we make that commitment and we’re all on the same page, we’re just going to be a spotty, hit-and-miss kind of a team.”
The Greyhounds open PAC 7 play at 7:30 on Monday night at Nipomo, while Paso Robles will begin its league slate at the same time at Arroyo Grande.
ALSO AT THE ATASCADERO CLASSIC:Templeton 42, Santa Maria 39The Eagles mounted a furious comeback in the consolation championship, erasing a 35-15 deficit midway through the third. Zach Egger sank a pair of free throws in the final minute to give Templeton (5-6) the lead before Jordan Hattar made a couple in the closing seconds to complete a 27-4 run to close the game.
“It really started with our man defense,” Templeton coach Fred Price said of the comeback. “It was just like, ‘Who is this? That wasn’t the team that played over the first two-and-a-half quarters.’ But the players just didn’t quit, and it was fun to see.”
Hattar, who had 15 points, and fellow guard Daniel Wheeler were named to the all-tournament team. Dakota Oropeza added 14 points in the victory.
Elsewhere:MARIN CATHOLIC TOURNAMENTArroyo Grande 52, Mills 51Matt McAustin had five 3-pointers and led Arroyo Grande (11-3) with 21 points, and Mike Escobedo had 14 for the Eagles, who led 31-20 at halftime before hanging on to win the consolation championship.Derick Beasley added 11 in the win. Escobedo made the all-tournament team.
ST. FRANCIS TOURNAMENTSan Luis Obispo 63, Gunderson of San Jose 28The Tigers used a 26-1 third quarter to power past the Grizzlies and into the consolation championship game, where they’ll face Palma of Salinas at 4:30 p.m. today.
Michael Hansen led San Luis Obispo (5-7) with 13 points, while Sean Mullen and Derek Inman added nine apiece.
VALLEY CHRISTIAN ACADEMY TOURNAMENTMorro Bay 55, Coast Union 45Freshman guard Case Bruton carried the Pirates with 18 points. Morro Bay (5-8) led by 10 after the first half and kept that momentum going. Eddie Salazar led Coast Union (7-6) with 13 points, and Andy Gordon followed with 12.
Valley Christian 62, North County Christian 54Valley Christian freshman Andy Wilson had a game-high 30 points in the consolation title contest. Josh Feld led the Crusaders with 19.