Defense led to offense Thursday night for the Newport Harbor High boys’ basketball team.
The Sailors had six steals in the first quarter of the Tartan Classic pool-play game against Tustin, most of them leading to easy baskets.
Even if Newport Harbor did not impress offensively, the defense made a difference.
“Defense is something you can always control,” Sailors senior forward Dayne Chalmers said.
Chalmers helped Newport Harbor control the action. He had 16 points and a game-high seven steals as the Sailors beat the Tillers 51-36 at St. Margaret’s, improving to 2-0 in pool play.
Senior point guard Sam Barela had a game-high 20 points and also collected four steals for Newport Harbor (7-1), which needs to beat host St. Margaret’s on Friday at 8 p.m. to clinch first place in Pool B and a berth in the tournament championship game.
San Juan Hills plays University on Friday at 5 p.m., and the winner will take Pool A and also advance to the title game, scheduled for Saturday at 6 p.m.
Newport Harbor took an 18-11 lead after the first quarter against Tustin (4-3). Barela was active early, scoring nine points in the quarter, while he and senior center Will Harvey each had two steals.
“They’re a very well-coached team,” Sailors coach Bob Torribio said of the Tillers. “They’re going to run their stuff as good as anybody in the county. We could tell their game plan tonight was to slow it down and make us play defense, but luckily we’ve got a team that likes to defend. We were able to hang in there, even though we weren’t making some shots that we usually make inside.
“It’s nice to have kids that buy in defensively. We give them a lot of freedom offensively, but defensively we try to have some structure and some rules in place. Guys know where everybody’s supposed to be … When you defend like we like to do, most nights you’ll be OK and you’ll be in games.”
Junior guard Robbie Spooner added eight points for Newport Harbor, which took its first double-digit lead at 24-13 when Spooner made a deep three-pointer with 3:10 remaining in the half.
Barela made a three-pointer in the first minute of the third quarter to push the lead to 13 points. Tustin never got closer than nine points after that, even with junior forward Kyan Patel, who led his team with 12 points, knocking down a pair of three-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Chalmers iced the win, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter, seven of those coming on free throws. For the game, he was nine of 10 from the line.
“It’s always good to make your free throws,” Chalmers said. “I always expect to get fouled when I’m going up for the shot. That’s why I go to the basket and play physical, to get to the free-throw line.”
Newport Harbor is trying to make its first tournament title game of the young season, after finishing third at the Godinez Grizzly Invitational last week. Torribio pointed to sophomore shooting guard Levi Darrow, who didn’t score Thursday but has stepped into a starting role after playing on the Sailors’ freshman team last year.
“He’s playing a lot of minutes and he’s growing up real fast,” Torribio said. “Robbie Spooner came off the bench last year and he’s doing a great job this year for us. We’re asking a lot of a junior and a sophomore, and they’re giving us all they’ve got.”
Newport Harbor 51, Tustin 36
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Newport 18 – 10 – 9 – 14 — 51
Tustin 11 – 7 – 7 – 11 — 36
NH – Barela 20, Chalmers 16, Spooner 8, Silva 4, Harvey 3.
3-pt. goals – Spooner 2, Barela 1, Chalmers 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
T – Patel 12, Naranjo 8, Ahinaquah 6, Contreras 3, Trejo 2, Alomo 2, Stading 2, Salazar 1.
3-pt. goals – Patel 2, Naranjo 1, Contreras 1.
Fouled out – None.