Providence boys’ basketball finds groove to down Flintridge Prep in first league matchup

BURBANK — It was the battle of undefeated Prep League boys’ basketball teams at Providence High on Tuesday.

In Providence’s first showdown against Prep League co-champion Flintridge Prep, the Pioneers could not contain the Rebels on offense in the first quarter.

But in the second quarter, Providence found its groove, established its defense and produced offense at the opposite end of the court to defeat Flintridge Prep, 65-44, handing the Rebels their first league loss.

Backed by senior forward AJ Nicassio’s eight first quarter-points, the Rebels (12-9, 3-1 in league) made the majority of their shots in the opening frame to outscore the hosts, 23-15.

But the Pioneers (19-6, 6-0), in their first season in the Prep League, roared back in the second quarter to outscore the visitors, 16-4, and build a 31-27 halftime lead.

“I would like to think our kids just woke up and started to play,” Providence head coach Brandon Lincoln said. “Obviously, Flintridge Prep is prepared. They’ve seen us play a bunch and their coach does a great job, and we had a bit of a hangover from our game Monday [against View Park].”

In Monday’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Showcase at Burbank High, the Pioneers dropped a heavily contested game, 61-52, and used that loss to fuel their run Tuesday.

“I don’t think we played the way we wanted to and lost to a very competitive team,” Lincoln said. “Coming out tonight, we just tried to recreate the energy and get our mojo back. Once we did that, our guys started to buy in, started to work together and we held a very good shooting team to a tough scoring quarter. We definitely benefited from this in the long run.”

Providence junior guard Jordan Shelley led the scoring contingent with 24 points, 12 in each half.

The junior stole possession and scored in transition with 40 seconds left in the first quarter that began a Pioneers’ 16-0 run that lasted until the 1:12 mark of the second quarter.

“Brandon is a great coach when it comes to regathering us,” Shelley said. “Our team has a weird history of losing focus a lot, especially at home. When we refocus, we usually smack teams on our floor, I’m just saying it bluntly.

“After the first quarter, [coach] told us keep contesting, but be more aggressive on defense and the offense will come. So, when we trust in Brandon, who’s a great coach, we get results.

Providence had three players in double-figures in scoring, with junior Bryce Whitaker’s contribution of 20 points.

“We weren’t exactly playing terribly, but they were hitting tough shots,” Shelley said. “We could’ve been more aggressive on defense, but them shooting 80 percent in the first quarter and going up by 10 didn’t get us to the best start.”

Providence forward A’Jahni Levias’ presence under the post racked in 16 rebounds to go alongside 10 points, while Pioneers senior Jonas Holt added eight assists.

“They just wear on you,” Flintridge Prep coach Garrett Ohara said. “They shot the ball well here and I thought our guys fought. They played hard, but you have to do a lot of things very well if you want to beat this team on their own floor.

“They got a lot of ways to hurt you — inside, outside. I thought Whitaker shot the ball well. Shelley is a tough guy to guard. A’Jahni is a beast inside. They have a lot of weapons. Those three are a big part of their success, but their defense was, what I think, set us apart today forcing those turnovers.”

Nicassio led the Rebels with 17 points and hit the only field goal in the second quarter for the visitors to make it a 29-25 Providence lead with 1:12 left in the half.

“I think when we started to turn the ball over a little bit, we start getting fewer opportunities in the second quarter, which also fuels their offense,” Ohara said. “They got too many easy buckets in transition. I thought when we were able to play them in the half-court, then our defense was OK. But giving them 16 points in that second quarter after a great start was tough.”

The Pioneers opened the second half with a three-pointer from Whitaker that set up another lengthy scoring run, this time a 12-0 spurt that lasted until 3:55 was left in the third for a 43-27 Providence lead.

A layup from Rebels sophomore Zach Kim broke the visitors’ drought, only for the Pioneers to go on a 6-0 run to make it a 50-29 advantage with 2:40 left in the third.

The Rebels knocked in two three-pointers in the span of two minutes, but Flintridge Prep still faced a 52-38 deficit at the end of the frame.

The Rebels scored back-to-back baskets to start the final period to cut the Pioneers’ lead to 52-42 with 7:06 left, but Whitaker responded to score five points in 30 seconds to extend the Providence lead.

“We wanted to come out and make a good introduction to a league that we plan to be a part of for a while,” Lincoln said. “Hopefully, we continue to have battles like this.

“I know we’re going to have a tough game when we go to Flintridge and [Pasadena] Poly in the future, so we just wanted to come in and compete and give them our best game.”

Twitter: @ReporterVince