Playing up to a considerably bigger opponent was no problem for the Atascadero High boys basketball team this past week.
Team-wide quickness, however, did in the Greyhounds on Tuesday night, as they fell 52-39 to visiting Inglewood before an overflow crowd at Ewing Gym in the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs.
“I think our speed kind of wore them down toward the end,” Inglewood assistant coach Ken Henson said. “We heard they were outstanding shooters, and they’re very disciplined. We knew we had to take them out of their offense with our speed and our press.”
Julius Bilbrew had a team-high 17 points for No. 3 seed Inglewood (20-8) from his shooting guard spot, but it was the play of his diminutive, yet fleet-of-foot backcourt counterpart that propelled the Sentinels late.
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Gerald Evans, a 5-foot-2 point guard who entered averaging six assists and 3.4 steals per game, had 12 of his 16 points in a pivotal fourth quarter. Inglewood won the final period 21-8, as Evans — who recently has been shown interest by Cal Poly, Henson said — knocked down a pair of 3-pointers during the home stretch.
“There was a period there where it just seemed like we got a little more tired,” Atascadero coach Jerry Tamelier said. “The cuts weren’t as sharp as they needed to be, and we stood a little bit (instead of moving without the ball on offense). The passing wasn’t as crisp as it needed to be against such an active team.”
Star point guard Troy Norris again carried No. 11 seed Atascadero (19-9), pouring in a game-high 23 points — 14 of which came in the second quarter. Matt O’Connell added nine in defeat, with Sam McMillan contributing five.
Joseff Singleton chipped in 11 points for the Sentinels, who shot 25 free throws on the night, making 16. Inglewood advanced to face either sixth-seeded El Segundo or second-seeded Orange Lutheran in the semifinals.
The Sentinels led 10-7 after the first quarter, but Atascadero surged ahead shortly afterward, going up 23-18 by halftime and taking its biggest advantage of the contest at 27-18 on a Norris jumper with about five-and-a-half minutes remaining in the third.
After that, though, Inglewood largely stifled the Greyhounds, going on a 21-4 run capped by an Evans 3-pointer with just over six minutes left that put Inglewood up 39-31.
“We had to get some stops and force them to dribble the ball and put it on the floor,” Henson said. “We just had to put more pressure on their shooters.”
Henson said the Sentinels heavily scouted Atascadero’s 56-53 second-round upset of fifth-seeded Cathedral of Los Angeles on Friday. In that game, the Greyhounds held 6-9 Cal State Northridge signee Frankie Eteuati six points below his season average and, perhaps more importantly, hit eight 3-pointers.
Atascadero made half as many Tuesday.
“There were some key possessions where maybe we should’ve passed, but instead we used the dribble when it wasn’t really the wisest thing to do,” Tamelier said.
The Greyhounds pulled within 39-37 on an O’Connell trey with just under four-and-a-half minutes to go, but they got no closer, as Inglewood sank 9 of 14 shots from the charity stripe in the fourth to ice it.
“We battled really hard,” Tamelier said. “The game kind of got away from us halfway through the fourth.
“I don’t know if it was the anxiety or what,” Tamelier added, “but we just seemed a little not as sharp as the other night.”
The most recent time Atascadero made it to a divisional semifinal was in 2003, when a group led by eventual Montana State signee Mecklen Davis fell 74-60 to an Artesia team then ranked in the top 20 of the state.
Atascadero, which is in position to return nine players from this year’s roster for next season, received a standing ovation after the final buzzer sounded. The returning group would include Norris, a 5-10 junior who entered the week averaging team highs of 16.1 points and 2.7 steals per game a year after earning all-PAC 7 honors as an underclassman. He put on a stunning display late Friday, individually outscoring Cathedral 10-3 over the final minute-and-a-half of play.
The Greyhounds opened league play 1-3 this year, and generally struggled shooting from the perimeter early against league foes before coming on late, perhaps most memorably evidenced by a 63-62 win over eventual PAC 7 champion Righetti before embarking on their postseason run.
“To come back (from the earlier frustrations) and be in the quarters again, especially after Friday night’s game, it’s another really good year for the program,” Tamelier said.