Defending CIF Open Division champion Torrey Pines may have a virtually new boys’ basketball roster in 2019-20 but Coach John Olive got a big boost from a familiar source Thursday night when his Falcons defeated visiting Santa Fe Christian, 57-39.
The Falcons’ lone returning starter, Stanford-bound senior Brandon Angel stuffed the scoresheet with 28 points, 15 rebounds and four assists as his team opened up an eight-point first quarter lead and was never seriously threatened. The victory lifted the No. 4 (Union-Tribune poll) hosts to 7-1 on the season while No. 5 SFC suffered its first defeat, slipping to 6-1.
As impressive as the 6-foot-8 Angel’s numbers were, it was the Torrey Pines defense that carried the day against the aggressive, but smaller Eagles. The Falcons’ size and work rate limited SFC to uncharacteristically meager 32% shooting from the floor and 4-of-26 from beyond the arc (with two of those gets occurring in the last few minutes). From Angel’s perspective, the game unfolded as anticipated.
“It was absolutely what we expected,” said Angel. “We’ve been studying them on film, knew they would be trying to pressure us and knew it would be important to be strong with the ball, stay levelheaded and poised throughout the game.
“Coach came up with a great game plan, everyone paid attention and executed it tonight.”
The plan was focused on keeping Santa Fe Christian’s shooters from getting open three pointers and dropping off their secondary shooters to provide help with slashers like seniors Sam Dudley, the tallest of SFC’s regulars at 6-3, and Hayden Gray. Consider the strategy a success.
“Tonight’s defensive effort was outstanding,” assessed Olive. “We always hang our hats on our defensive effort.
“We didn’t do a good job early of boxing out and controlling the defensive backboard but we did a much better job in the second half and for the most part were able to limit them to one shot.”
An energetic, two-sided crowd kept things lively along with a feisty approach from the opening tip by the Eagles. But Torrey responded well and was able to more than match SFC’s physicality. With the visitors hurt by a rash of fouls and unable to land treys, Olive’s club stretched its lead to 31-17 at halftime. The closing sequence of the half was symptomatic of Santa Fe Christian’s plight in the first 16 minutes. Trailing by 12 SFC’s Gray held the ball for the last shot. He shook free for an open three that rattled in-and-out. Angel alertly snagged the rebound and flung a length of the court pass that junior Nate Witte converted into a made lay-up at the buzzer, turning a potential momentum-building nine-point deficit into the 14-pt. edge the Falcons took to the break.
The Eagles hung around, though, and after taking advantage of a TP technical foul and subsequent buckets by senior Saagar Dhanjani and Dudley, narrowed the gap to just seven points with 3:30 remaining in the third quarter. But a pair of short range makes by Angel restored order and the Falcons pulled away.
After the game, Santa Fe Christian Head Coach Chad Bickley, whose squad sports four starters from last season’s CIF Open Division qualifier, recognized some things that needed work but on the whole liked what he saw from his charges.
“Our guys played hard, they forced turnovers, but we haven’t played this kind of size yet and we’ll have to adjust to that—it caused some very poor shooting,” said Bickley. “They did a great job of shutting down our shooter (Keattan Smith) and we’ve got to do a better job of getting him going because if he gets going, everybody gets going.
“But bottom line, we battled, we got good looks, we just didn’t make them. We didn’t capitalize and left some points out there.”
The Eagles were led by Gray and Dudley (12 and 11 pts. respectively) and Dhanjani chipped in with nine points, while making a heap of hustle plays and hitting some clutch shots when the game was still in doubt.
After the win, Angel and Olive both talked about the development of this contemporary version of Torrey Pines basketball, one that includes a lot of new faces but a well-established approach.
“Things are working out great,” said Angel. “One thing you can’t teach is effort and competitiveness—this team comes into practice every day trying to compete and get better. We trust coach will get us in position offensively and defensively to execute and win.” With graduated standouts like twins Bryce and Michael Pope and 6-9 Noah Viera now playing collegiate basketball, Angel is adjusting to an altered role.
“The biggest difference this year is having to lead,” he said. “I need to make sure I’m helping bringing the younger guys up while elevating my own game as well. When we need a bucket, I need to get a bucket and throughout the course of the game make plays for our team that make my teammates better—not just scoring but rebounding and trying to play a full, well-rounded game.”
The pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together according to the Falcons’ head coach. “Brandon’s really the only player back, everybody else is kind of new to my voice,” said Olive, who’s won a trio of CIF titles during his tenure at Torrey Pines. “We’re definitely making progress. As I mentioned, the defensive effort we had tonight was excellent. We’ve got to get better offensively but it’s coming—you can see it’s coming.”