CORONA – Part of the beauty – and yes, part of the frustration — of watching Centennial is that no matter how esthetically pleasing and how easy the Huskies make the game look, they somehow manage to make actually winning look hard.
Give up 14 3-pointers to St. John Bosco? Endure an off-night from one of the best outside shooters in the region in D.J. Davis? Watch Davis foul out on a charging call with 2:21 left? How does the state’s No. 4 team deal with that?
By turning Jaylen Clark loose for 24 points and Paris Dawson loose for 20, which turned Centennial loose en route to a wild 75-71 victory over the visiting Braves in the CIF Open Division opener Friday night.
It was just another night in the life of the Open Division’s No. 3 seed, who improved to 26-3 with No. 7 Mater Dei coming to town next Tuesday. Find a way to get into trouble, then find ways – emphasis on the plural – to get out of it.
“We find a way to make things difficult on ourselves some times. We’ve done that all year,” Centennial coach Josh Giles said. “We’ll definitely make it hard on ourselves if we can.”
The Huskies made it hard on themselves by going down as many as nine points in the third quarter – when No. 6 Bosco (21-7) opened the second half on a 10-2 run, then drained a trio of 3- pointers from Jeremiah Paul, Lamaj Lewis and Chris James. James and Josh Adoh, who hit five of the Braves’ 14 3-pointers, led Bosco with 22 points apiece.
Despite that barrage, Bosco Coach Matt Dunn wasn’t impressed with the long-distance runaround the Braves gave Centennial throughout the night.
“Honestly, I don’t think we shot it very well. We obviously shot a ton of them, but we have some very good shooters who had some very good looks and they just didn’t go in tonight,” he said.
“We turned it over too much. They do a great job pressuring the ball and we didn’t handle it well enough to win the game.”
Which neatly segues into how the Huskies made it easy on themselves. They forced 15 Bosco turnovers, managed to win the majority of the 50-50 battles for rebounds and loose balls and never panicked at any time.
“We turned it over too much. They do a great job pressuring the ball and we didn’t handle it well enough to win the game,” Dunn said. “Any time these two teams play, you can’t turn it over and you have to get loose balls and especially at the beginning of the fourth quarter, they got every one of them.”
Many of those found their way into the hands of Courtland Moffatt, who – along with Dawson – more than picked up the slack from Davis’ absence. Moffatt scored 13 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had five steals coming off the bench. Along with Dawson, who was 12-of-12 from the line, Moffatt sparked Centennial’s 14-4 run over the first 3:42 of the fourth quarter that gave the Huskies a 68-60 lead.
After Davis fouled out with 2:21 left, Bosco cut it to four (68-64). Then Dawson hit both ends of a 1-and-1, Moffatt stole the ball at midcourt and – from the ground – fed Clark for a thundering dunk, and Dawson hit his 11th and 12th free throws of the night. That gave Centennial just enough margin to endure the Braves’ final act of defiance – seven points in 46 seconds that cut it to three.
“I thought we got some timely stops when we got down by eight and when we got on a little bit of a run, we were able to keep the momentum going and we gave ourselves just enough cushion when we missed free throws late, we were able to overcome it,” Giles said. “When we missed that last free throw and they made that layup to go down by three, I said, ‘Guys, they don’t have any more time-outs. All we have to do is make one free throw and the game’s over, because they can’t take the ball out again.’
“All we had to do was make one and Jaylen made the one.”
Clark added eight rebounds and three steals to his ledger. But it was Dawson and Moffatt who picked up the slack and reminded the packed Centennial gym how beautiful the Huskies can play when they stay out of their own way.
“Earlier in the year, Paris had a big free throw in a game and he missed. It didn’t help us because it was a game we lost against Rancho Christian,” Giles said. “But Paris is the kind of kid where the next day, he was the first guy in the gym working on it. He’s a stud of a kid and he had a great game.”