SAN MARINO — Perhaps there were a bit of nerves on both sides Friday night when the La Cañada High boys' basketball team traveled to San Marino.
Whatever was the case with the Titans, they saw the Spartans score the first 10 points of the Rio Hondo League game. The very slow start was too much for San Marino to overcome in the end, try as it might in a 58-51 loss at home.
La Cañada appeared to be out of harm’s way with a 15-point, 54-39, lead with 3:08 to play after a Dan Jun three-pointer before its inexperience began to show. The Spartans committed four of their 12 turnovers in the final quarter, which allowed the Titans to get the game close.
“That’s definitely inexperience,” La Cañada Coach Tom Hofman said of the turnovers. “It’s a lot of inexperience but they’re good players and I’ve got a lot of confidence in them. ... It was the first test under fire for some of them and they got a little nervous.”
An already-young Spartans team was even greener Friday without starting point guard Ryan Lee, who was on crutches after injuring his knee in the Spartans’ 54-33 loss to Temple City Wednesday, and fellow seniors Mario Del Cueto and Jack Finnigan.
One player who didn’t shy away from the moment was La Cañada’s Jacob Brown, who finished with a team-high 19 points. The junior and first-year varsity player scored nine of his team’s 12 points in the final quarter to hold off San Marino.
“I was just trying to help our team win, that was the main objective,” Brown said. “After we lost [to Temple City] we wanted to come out and win, we didn’t want to drop two in a row.”
The Spartans also got a double-double from Koko Kurdoghlian (11 points, 11 rebounds).
Jasper Hwang, who finished with a game-high 24 points for San Marino, started the comeback attempt when he dropped in a layup to cut the score to 54-41 with 2:23 to go off a steal and assist from Brian Low (eight points).
Brown kept the advantage at 15 when he nailed a jumper just inside the three-point line with two minutes to play.
The game slowed down, as San Marino’s Austin Wong went to the free-throw line with 1:41 to play and made the first. His second attempt was rebounded by a teammate and worked around to the corner to the Titans’ Garette Verdugo, who nailed a three to bring the score to 56-45 with 1:30 remaining.
Hwang was sent to the line after being fouled on a three-point shot following a La Cañada turnover and made two of the three with 1:13 to play. The Titans’ Kevin Wang kept on the attack when he stole the ball at midcourt and charged in for a layup to cut the deficit to seven, 56-49, with 46 ticks left.
The comeback proved too little, too late, as Brown put the game out of reach with a La Cañada bucket with 23 seconds to go.
“We saw the scoreboard and we just had to make a run,” Hwang said. “We got after the ball and it almost worked. We had them, we almost had them and they hit a couple shots and that was it. ... If we had a good first quarter it would have been close.”
The Spartans started hot from deep Friday, as they hit four threes in the first quarter. Jun and Brendon Hempstead hit back-to-back threes to give La Cañada a 10-0 lead 2:05 into the game.
“We were totally out of character and out of sorts in that first quarter, that’s the worst start for us all year long,” San Marino Coach Mihail Papadopulos said. “We haven’t played that kind of quarter all year so that was frustrating because this is a game where the boys wanted to play well.”
La Cañada finished with nine three-pointers in the game with two more coming in the second quarter. Kurdoghlian nailed a three 50 seconds before halftime to give the Spartans a 36-20 lead going into the break.