Balanced St. Francis basketball breaks away from Wildwood

BURBANK — For anyone who thought the St. Francis High basketball team would have trouble putting points on the board after graduating its top two scorers, the Golden Knights are quickly putting that notion to rest just two games into the season.

For the second night in a row, the Golden Knights scored in the 70s to blow out their opponent in the Providence Tournament. This time it was a 72-33 win over Wildwood, paced by double-figure scoring from Kyle Leufroy (20 points), Markar Aghakanian (11) and Noah Willerford (10), that allowed St. Francis to clinch its pool heading into Friday's playoffs.

"This is the first year we've had 10 guys that could be a legitimate scoring threat, we've never had anything close to that before," said Golden Knights co-Coach Ray O'Brien, whose offense over the past couple of seasons was constructed around standout guards Emerson Castaneda and Zack Gardea. "We may not have the firepower we had with Emerson and Zack last year, but we have much better balance. They're learning to play together and they're a pretty unselfish team.

"There's a number of guys who are a threat, so the ball moves around more than it did in the past and today and in our first game it showed itself in balanced scoring."

Coming off a season-opening 73-42 pool-play win over Holy Martyrs on Monday, St. Francis had 18 assists on the night, including six from Evan Crawford (seven points) and five from Michael Allen, and also got eight points from Philip Little and five from Jake Beck.

St. Francis' first run of the game, which resulted in an early 13-5 lead at the 3:30 mark of the first quarter, was answered by Wildwood (0-1), which pulled back to within 13-11 in a span of 43 seconds. St. Francis closed the quarter on a 6-0 run, but the game remained fairly tight going into the second at 19-11.

"We're young, we come out a little sloppy," O'Brien said. "I think we thought they wouldn't have a lot of fight and they didn't have a lot of size, but they had a lot of fight, so the first couple of minutes it wasn't as easy as we thought it would be. Then we settled down and ran the offense and respected them on defense and got our game together."

Willerford pushed the lead into double-digits for good at the 6:30 mark of the second quarter with two free throws that began a run of eight unanswered points for St. Francis. Aghakanian scored on a breakaway on a pass from Crawford before Willerford came back with a layup a the 5:30 mark. Crawford came up with steals on the next two plays, feeding Allen on the break for one basket, then starting a relay from Allen to Leufroy for a score on the next.

"If we play like a team like we should, we have really good potential," Leufroy said. "We're a young team and if we play as a team every game we should be able to do very good.

"We're just trying to prepare for the Mission League, so we're just trying to play as hard as we can every game."

Leufroy hit a three-pointer to make it 36-16 midway through the second, as St. Francis continued to pour it on before halftime, by which point it led, 49-20.

Crawford sank a three to push the lead over 30 early in the third period.

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