LA CANADA — Evan Crawford and the rest of the St. Francis High basketball team were determined to make things difficult for San Dimas' big man, 6-foot-5 Jordan Stokes, during Friday's CIF Southern Section Division III-A first-round playoff game.
With a stifling defensive pressure that kept Stokes scoreless in the first half, the Golden Knights turned that intensity into a big lead in the first half.
With Crawford leading the way with a triple-double, St. Francis was able to ride that lead to an even bigger advantage in the second half, which paved the way for a 61-38 victory at home.
The victory puts No. 7 St. Francis (17-13) into the quarterfinal round, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday. It will take on the winner of the second-round contest between No. 2-seeded Oak Park and Pacific.
If the Golden Knights — who made the playoffs as an at-large team from the Mission League — play with the sense of purpose they displayed against the Saints, they could be tough to beat.
And that sense of purpose was keyed by Crawford, a junior who had 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
“We know that sometimes we’re going to have rough shooting nights and we’re not going to always be able to put the ball in the basket,” Crawford said. “So we try and come out and play good defense. That’s kind of our main point in every game that we play.”
St. Francis co-Coach Ray O’Brien said Crawford’s hard work and his desire make him a valuable asset to the Golden Knights on the floor.
“Evan Crawford is a phenomenal defender,” O’Brien said. “Everybody talks about points scored, but he’s out there doing everything for us, rebounding, doing some scoring and getting assists. But mostly, you put Evan on their best scorer and he scores zero points in the first half. You’ve taken their leader and pretty much taken him out of the game. That’s demoralizing for the rest of their team.”
Picking up some of the scoring duties for St. Francis was Kyle Leufroy, who had 15, and Noah Willerford, who contributed 14.
Along with their defensive pressure, the Golden Knights also benefited from poor shooting from San Dimas (16-11) in the first half.
The Saints missed their first seven shots to open the game. San Dimas converted only two field goals and didn’t score from the field until Greyson McGee hit a three-pointer with 2:56 remaining. That opened the door for St. Francis, which jumped out to a 13-7 advantage after one.
Things got worse for San Dimas in the second quarter, as the team didn’t score from the field on its nine attempts in the stanza. For the first half, the Saints were just two of 20. The Golden Knights took full advantage and enjoyed a 20-point lead at the half, 29-9.
“What sets the tone for us is our defense and we’ve played a lot of good teams,” O’Brien said. “So we were confident that we could take them out of their game.”
Even with the sizable lead, St. Francis didn’t let up in the second half. The hosts outscored San Dimas, 17-11, in the third and went into the fourth quarter with a comfortable cushion, 46-20.
With the game well in hand, St. Francis increased its advantage to 33 points with 2:44 remaining in the game.