PASADENA — For a stretch of the first half of Thursday's nonleague game at Maranatha High, the Flintridge Prep boys' basketball team showed it could get the job done with its force in the middle, senior center Kenyatta Smith, parked on the bench.
When it was time to secure the lead for good in the second half, however, Smith returned to being a dominant presence on the court and was the biggest key down the stretch to the Rebels' 70-53 win.
Smith scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, where Prep, which was led by Jared Norsworthy's game-high 24 points, answered the Minutemen's final push with a shove.
"At halftime our coach told us we always start out the first half playing strong defense and strong offense and the second half we loosen up a little bit," said Smith, who led Prep, which is the No.2-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 5-AA, with 21 rebounds. "Today we made it a personal goal to keep the intensity all four quarters and go as strong as we can and play good basketball, the way we should always play."
Smith, who missed most of the second quarter with foul trouble, started off the fourth quarter with a putback to push the Rebels' lead to 53-41 after it had slipped as low as 49-41 from a 17-point margin at halftime.
Josh Chamberlain, who led Maranatha, which is the third-ranked team in Division 4-A, with 20 points, sank a three out of the corner to bring the lead back down to nine. But, after Kory Hamane (15 points) answered with a three at the other end with just under seven minutes left, the margin stayed in double-digits the rest of the way.
Smith scored the next four Rebels points, trailing down the middle for a layup and then converting on a second-chance attempt, before a pull-up jump shot along the baseline by Robert Cartwright put Prep up, 62-47.
Hamane then found Smith down low for an inside bucket before Smith grew the lead to 66-49 with an emphatic breakaway dunk at the 3:13 mark.
Earlier in the game, Prep's balanced effort facilitated a strong start and a big first-half lead.
Prep scored 24 points in the first quarter to lead by nine, but with 4:30 left in the second quarter, Smith went to the bench with what Prep Coach Garrett Ohara said he thought was his third foul. It turned out to be only his second, but with the Rebels already pushing the lead over 15 by the time the mistake was realized, Smith was able to rest on the sideline for the rest of the half.
"We came out playing strong, playing hard," Smith said. "We were able to capitalize off Maranatha's mistakes and play the way we're supposed to."
The Rebels (9-4) held the Minutemen (12-3) to just six second-quarter points and Norsworthy's driving layup with 2:35 remaining in the first half put Prep up by its biggest margin to that point, 35-19.
"The guys know they can play without [Smith]," Ohara said. "That was good to see.
"We shot it well from the perimeter in the first half, but we made more poor decisions, I think, in that third quarter and then our defense kind of went haywire."