By Matthew Snyder
Stuart Hall head boys basketball coach Charles Johnson felt that Saturday night’s home game against Mission might prove to be a turning point in the Knights’ season.
In front of a packed house at their underground gym, the Knights withstood a fourth-quarter Mission rally and held on for a 65-49 non-league win.
“It had a smell to it – that maybe they were going to get it tight,” Johnson said. “This game is always a good test for us – to see where we are. It wasn’t about surprises, it was about gutting out the victory.”
After Mission used an 8-1 run to cut the Stuart Hall lead to 52-44 with just over 3 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Knights hit 8-of-10 free throws — sophomore guard Tyler Ryan went 5-of-6 from the line during that stretch — to put the game away.
Stuart Hall sophomore Armani Collins hit a three-pointer 3 minutes into the first quarter to give Stuart Hall its first lead of the game at 7-6 and the Knights didn’t trail again.
Collins’ offensive fireworks captivated the crowd — he finished with 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting and had a nine-point outburst in the opening period — but Stuart Hall (8-3) pushed past Mission (0-8) mostly with a solid defensive effort.
The Knights overcame 17 turnovers by playing tough, physical defense and the Bears shot just 30 percent from the floor. Stuart Hall also held its own on the boards, led by senior forwards Andreas Peritos and Matt McCrum, who finished with 10 and nine rebounds, respectively.
Mission senior guard Antoine Porter, who entered the game averaging 20.6 points per game, finished with a game-high 25 points on 9-of-28 shooting from the field. It is the third straight game and sixth overall that Porter has been the only Mission player to score in double digits.
“[Porter] took a lot of shots and the shots that he’s taking were sometimes 10, 12 feet beyond the arc . . . We’re going to let him take those shots,” Johnson said. “He’s a heck of a player – he’s a warrior – and he’s going to get his points, bottom line.”
Stuart Hall used a 1-3-1 zone in stages, but mostly stayed with man-to-man defense. When in the latter, Stuart Hall senior guard Cade McLaughlin was given the thankless task of guarding Porter for nearly all of the 29 minutes the Mission guard was on the court.
After McLaughlin subbed out for a quick break midway through the second quarter, Porter blew past his defender for an easy layup to cut the Knights’ lead to 27-21. Seconds after the shot fell through the hoop, Johnson rushed McLaughlin back into the game.
“He’s a great player,” said McLaughlin, who was a teammate with Porter on an AAU team in eighth grade. “When he dribbles, I’m just trying to get back on him and give him a full body, and stay down and work hard, and make him shoot far shots.”
Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya praised his team’s intensity and expressed confidence that, despite the slow start, the Bears will be fine once Academic Athletic Association play begins.
“My guys are fighting from the start – from tip off to the last buzzer,” Zelaya said. “We’re getting better. It’s hard to believe. It’s hard to really sell you on that, because we’re 0-8, but we are getting better and I’ve got a lot of confidence in this group. The energy was really high from start to finish. They did not play the scoreboard. They just played. That’s all I can ask.”
Armani Collins – 19
Tyler Ryan – 14
Rodney McKinney – 8
Andreas Peritos – 7
Two players tied with 6 points
Antoine Porter – 25
Demetrius Thibeaux – 7
Ronald Murrilo – 7
Kerian Pope – 5
Two players tied with 2 points