NEWHALL — The size advantage the Highland boys’ basketball team held in the post was evident to everyone in the Hart High gym on Thursday afternoon, but it was the play of the Bulldogs’ athletic guards that really hurt Crescenta Valley the most.
Bulldogs center Devin Burleson routinely drew an extra defender in the post, leaving the backside exposed for easy dunks and layups, a formula Crescenta Valley struggled to adjust to in 58-43 loss at the Hart Holiday Classic.
“We focused on the size, but we needed to focus on everyone,” said Crescenta Valley center Eric Patten. “Especially against a team with as many strengths like that.”
The main beneficiary of the Falcons’ defensive lapses was Highland guard Tommie Groce, who led the team with 19 points, eight of which came on nearly identical backdoor cut plays that resulted in wide open dunks or layups.
“I thought they would know by the end,” Groce joked of his shock when the play worked in the final minutes of the contest. “We have some good shooters. They left them open and gave us an easy win.”
Those open jumpers and backside layups helped the Bulldogs (8-1) open up a double-digit lead for most of the second half, a lead that jumped to as high as 19 in the third.
“Our scouting report was to double when [Burleson] put the ball on the floor. We talked about the fact that they have a good big man and can shoot,” Crescenta Valley Coach Shawn Zargarian said. “I think our guys were a little rattled.”
Crescenta Valley (4-5) may have something to say, though, about the contention it was an easy Highland victory.
Down 16 with seven minutes to play, the Falcons broke into a full-court press that gave the Bulldogs fits.
Patten led the way in the fourth, scoring eight of his team-high 14 points, helping the Falcons cut the lead to 45-38 with 5:40 to play.
“It’s something we’ve been toying with all season long,” said Zargarian off the press. “We tend to throw it in when we’re behind so we don’t know if it’s working because we’re desperate or if we’re really good at it.”
But Highland guard Dominic Gully hit a three-pointer to push the lead back to 10 and Highland held on for the victory.
Patten added six rebounds for Crescenta Valley and Berj Krikorian followed with 13 points.
For Highland, Charles Dixon-Brady III had 11 points, Dominic Gully added 10 and Burleson finished with eight points and nine rebounds.
With Burleson on the bench in the third due to foul trouble, freshman Kamara Warren Jr., provided a size off the bench, pulling down six rebounds in the frame and adding a blocked shot.
Crescenta Valley takes on host Hart at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Hart previously defeated Crescenta Valley in the finals of the Falcon Classic.