It took a while, but the bulbs of intensity finally flickered for the Paso Robles High boys basketball team.
Down 50-41 to Cesar Chavez of Delano early in the fourth quarter Thursday evening, the Bearcats rattled off a 22-3 run to open the Harding Invitational Tournament in Morro Bay with a 63-53 come-from-behind win.
“I thought I saw a light go on, maybe,” Paso Robles coach Scott Larson said. “We’ll see (today). Hopefully we’ll compete better and play hard.”
Thanks to stout defense down low from power forward Brandon Todd and center Eric Bilderback, the Bearcats (2-0) held the Titans without a field goal until about a minute-and-a-half remained in the first quarter, but then they succumbed to a rash of turnovers as Chavez ratcheted up a full-court press, surging back for a 20-18 lead midway through the second.
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Chavez outscored Paso Robles in the second quarter 21-8 and led 29-22 at halftime.
“I was pretty disappointed about the way we played after about the first four minutes until the last quarter,” Larson said.
Although Paso Robles took a 38-37 lead with just under two minutes left in the third, it was short-lived, as the Titans had a 48-41 advantage entering the final period.
But the Bearcats settled down. A steal and coast-to-coast layup by Todd brought them within 50-48, and then guard Lonnie Watson calmly sank a pair of free throws with about four minutes left to tie the contest 50-50.
“We just came together at the end,” Todd said. “We passed the ball (to beat the press) instead of dribbling.”
Watson gave Paso Robles a 52-50 lead on a layup moments later.“From the time it was 50-41 until the end of the game, I was very proud of the way they played,” Larson said. “We played with emotion, played smart and controlled the ball.”
Paso Robles committed only three turnovers in the fourth while its point guards, Jake Murray and Terry Robbins, helped stifle the Titans’ perimeter-heavy offense.
“We haven’t played with that kind of intensity,” Larson said. “I think that’s what we’re capable of. Maybe we learned something. I think we maybe took a step (Thursday).
“Finally at the end, we handled (Chavez’s press) pretty well,” Larson added. “It bothered us the rest of the game, and we really got knocked off the ball. We weren’t competing well and we turned it over a million times.”
The 6-foot-3 Watson, who had a 20-point performance in the Bearcats’ season-opening win at St. Joseph on Tuesday, finished with a game-high 30 points. Todd added 16 points. Javier Morales paced Chavez (0-3) with 18.
Paso Robles has hopes of competing for a PAC 7 title after returning nine players from last year’s squad that had all but four of its losses by 10 or fewer points.
“We just have to pick it up and settle down as a team,” said Watson, who added that the experience of facing such an aggressive defense early in the season could pay dividends come league play.
“It’s very valuable,” he said. “We’re going to see a lot of pressure, because there are a lot of good guards in our league.”
Arroyo Grande 61, West Valley 32The Eagles led just 13-11 after the first quarter but steadily pulled away thanks to a strong balance of outside shooting and interior play.
Six-foot-5 forward Derick Beasley had a team-high 14 points for Arroyo Grande (2-0), and 6-4 forward Kelly Shepard added 11 to the cause.
Eagles coach Ryan Glanville said he continued to be pleased with Arroyo Grande’s compensation for the preseason loss of senior all-county center Tanner Hinek, who suffered an injury during football season.
Beasley, Shepard and others “provided (Arroyo Grande) with offense in the post,” Glanville said, “and I’m really pleased with our post guys.”
Matt McAustin hit a trio of 3-pointers for the Eagles and finished with 13 points.
“We did a lot of good work against their zone,” Glanville added. Defensively, Arroyo Grande didn’t allow any West Valley players to score more than eight points.
Atascadero 57, Tamalpais 39Troy Noris led Atascadero (1-0) with 25 points and was followed by teammate Matt O’Connell, who scored 13 points.
Davis 70, Morro Bay 65Bryce Owens led Morro Bay (0-1) with 15 points. Edward Griley and Case Bruton each scored 14 points for the Pirates.
Templeton 59, North 32Jordan Hattar had 31 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals for Templeton at the Morro Bay Tournament.
Daniel Wheeler added 12 points for Templeton (2-0), which led by 11 points after the first quarter.
Fallbrook 49, Nipomo 43Jeff McNeil scored a team-high 10 points for the Titans (0-2) at the Morro Bay Tournament. Nipomo allowed 20 points in the fourth quarter.