With noise levels that topped the ceilings plus dunks from St. Paul's Louis Bangai and 3-pointers from LeAndrew Knight getting exchanged, it was the Cabrillo Conquistadores that ended up falling by just one point to the No. 2 seeded St. Paul Swordsmen 61-60 on Tuesday night in a CIF-SS Division 3A quarterfinal game in Vandenberg Village.
The biggest lead of the night was seven, which was held by the Swordsmen out of Santa Fe Springs in the third quarter. The towering 6-foot-10 Bangai, who will soon play Mountain West basketball at UNLV, pounded a thunderous dunk on Jordan Tyler and went on to score the first six points in the third quarter to put his team up 40-33.
That was until Cabrillo turned to its big man Tyler to shift the momentum back CHS’s way. Tyler, standing at 6-foot-7, scored on a fast charged layup against Bangai to break the early run. Then, the Conquistadores turned to their long range marksman LeAndrew Knight to bury some key jumpers and ignite an 11-0 run.
However, rebounds and interior defense ultimately doomed the Conqs, as Bangai found his way to 32 points and St. Paul used the rest of its size to dominate the key through rebounds, blocks and points in the paint.
“It’s one of those things. We’ve talked about it before — It’s going to come down to rebounding and free throws,” CHS head coach C.J. Simmons said. “We lose this game by one and we miss some crucial free throws down the stretch. But I am extremely proud of this work. I’ve been blessed to coach these young men.”
In the fourth quarter, TreVaugn Ross hit both of his free throws to extend the CHS lead to 48-45. After St. Paul re-took the lead, Knight got the home crowd to erupt in euphoria as he nailed a long 3-pointer with less than 1:25 to go, tying the game at 54.
While Bangai brought the inside scoring prowess for the Swordsmen, he had his lapses at the free throw line, including missing two crucial ones in the fourth. But, he redeemed himself by not only getting a second chance layup, but followed with a turnaround jumper to make it 58-54.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s them or me, I have to make the basket,” Bangai said. “I brim with confidence and I take what the defense gives me and I take my shots. They had two guys on me, but I’m going to try to make my plays and score.”
St. Paul not only countered with Bangai, but he received scoring assistance from Chris Garcia and Kylann Mann to prevent the Swordsmen from taking a long bus ride home without a win.
St. Paul head coach Damaine Powell left the locker room full of sweat, as an exhilarating and nail-biting game came to an end.
“It’s really sad because you have two really good teams and they’re well coached, but one of us had to go home,” Powell said. “It could’ve gone either way, and it went our way.”
Ross led the Conqs with a season best 28 points. Knight ended the game with 17. Tyler finished with 16. Nate Kosonga was the only other St. Paul player in double figures with 11.
Now comes this part for Simmons and Cabrillo — seeing if their season can still go on to state despite falling in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3A playoffs.
“I’m not too sure how that goes. I mean, if 25-4 is good enough for an at-large statement, we’ll take it. But I guess I have to wait,” Simmons said.