Being a senior on this year’s San Luis Obispo High boys basketball team came with a unique kind of pressure.
Heading into the season, the Tigers’ five veterans had inherited the task of following last year’s group of twice as many seniors who led San Luis Obispo to its first league title in 20 years and the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division IV-AA playoffs.
It may have taken a while, but the current class is establishing a legacy of its own.
San Luis Obispo finished its PAC 7 campaign Wednesday night by defeating visiting Atascadero 52-46 on its Senior Night, bringing its league record to .500 by winning for the sixth time in seven tries.
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“We were young this year,” Tigers senior point guard Joe Agbo said. “After we meshed, we were rolling. It just took a while for us to bond.”
Senior shooting guard Josh James hit five 3-pointers, netting a game-best 19 points for the Tigers (11-14, 6-6), who are preparing for another postseason appearance after starting 5-13 overall and 1-5 in league play.
“We’re playing together. It’s a lot different from the beginning of the year,” San Luis Obispo coach John Jensen said. “We knew at the beginning we were a good team, but we were young and inexperienced. I told them the more we played together, the better we’d get.”
Daniel Hansen and Steve Sainsbury added eight points apiece in the victory, while Agbo had six while consistently creating opportunities for others.
Matt O’Connell had a team-high 14 for Atascadero (16-8, 6-5), which had also entered winning five of its past six and ranked No. 9 in the division.
“We just seemed late (defensively) and flat,” Atascadero coach Jerry Tamelier said. “We weren’t the team that went out there the last two outings. We looked very sluggish, and I don’t think we made good decisions or moved the ball very well.”
Greyhounds point guard Troy Norris, who encountered significant foul trouble for the second game in a row, was guarded by Agbo for much of the night and was held to nine points — seven below his average.
“That kid’s really good,” Agbo said. “He’s fast. All I tried to do was shade him and force him to shoot. If he’s on, he’s on, but today he was just a little off.”
San Luis Obispo led 15-6 after the first quarter, and took a 22-12 advantage on a James 3 from the top of the arc with just over four minutes left before halftime.
“James really hurt us,” Tamelier said. “We didn’t really close out on him, and we gave him a cushion a couple of times. He made us pay.”
All five Tigers seniors started to ignite the early lead — no ordinary gesture considering San Luis Obispo has gotten strong contributions all year from Sainsbury, a co-captain, and 6-foot-6 center Sean Mullen, both juniors.
“It was great the seniors started and did a great job,” Jensen said. “They got us a 10-point lead, and then we started them again in the second (half), and they built it back up again.”
Atascadero closed the opening half on a 10-1 run and went up 25-23 with about a minute-and-a-half elapsed in the third quarter on a step-out 3 by 6-foot-7 center Sean Slavin. The Tigers responded with a 6-0 run, though, and never trailed again. They took their largest lead of the second half at 49-40 on another James 3, this time from the left corner, with 1:35 left in regulation.
“Josh has always been a guy we’ve been high on,” Jensen said. “When he gets hot, he can shoot the lights out. This was his last game at this gym, and he took it upon himself to score.”
The Tigers’ senior class from a year ago included San Luis Obispo County Player of the Year Julian Demalleville, now starting as a point guard at Monterey Peninsula College, and Shane Kennedy, a power forward currently at San Francisco State. San Luis Obispo’s only loss since Jan. 20 came to Righetti, the sixth-ranked team in Division II-A, 72-43 on Friday.
“Save for Righetti, I think we’re playing our best ball all year, for sure,” James said. “Right now, if we just hit our shots and play like we’ve been playing, I think we can play with anybody.”