Wednesday, January 17 , 2018, 4:41 pm | Fair 68º

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Boys Basketball

Santa Barbara Gives Its All in Loss Against St. John Bosco in CIF1AA Debut

Ben Brown of Santa Barbara crashes into St. John Bosco’s 6-8 JoJo Bush before dishing off to teammate Austin Lind. Click to view larger
Ben Brown of Santa Barbara crashes into St. John Bosco’s 6-8 JoJo Bush before dishing off to teammate Austin Lind.  (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

Senior leader Ben Brown and the Santa Barbara High’s boys basketball team accepted the challenge of playing in the 1AA Division of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs.

The Dons, champions of the 2A Division last year, opened against a St. John Bosco team that finished third in the tough Trinity League. They played evenly with the Braves in the second half, but that was after falling behind by 20 at halftime. St. John Bosco won the first-round game, 75-53, at J.R. Richards Gym.

“For us, it was just play hard,” Brown, the only returning starter from last year’s CIF championship team, said of the mindset going into the game. “That’s the one thing I wanted us to do, just play hard, not get punked. I think we did that. We were outsized but we played hard the whole game. You gotta like that.”

The fearless Brown attacked the rim with vigor and made some incredible shots against taller, quicker and more physical St. John Bosco players. The Braves’ center, JoJo Bush, was a muscular 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds and their point guard, Makani Whiteside, was 6-3.

“We were outsized but we played hard the whole game. You gotta like that,” said Brown. “I love competition, I love close games, I love playing against good players, so I just came out and did my best.”

Santa Barbara coach Dave Bregante sure appreciated it. He gave Brown a big hug as the player came out of the locker room.

“He’s been our leader all year long,” Bregante said. “Ben is the kind of guy who can compete against anybody. He’s just a great leader. I’m going to miss him.”

Alpha Okoli of St. John Bosco elevates for shot against Santa Barbara’s Morgan Peus (13) and Austin Lind (25). Click to view larger
Alpha Okoli of St. John Bosco elevates for shot against Santa Barbara’s Morgan Peus (13) and Austin Lind (25). (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

Bregante marveled at how Brown never let up against St. John Bosco.

“He was outsized, outweighed, everything. He just goes, he’s fearless.”

Brown led the Dons (16-12) with 14 points and sophomore Aiden Douglas had 12.

Bregante was pleased how his younger players “picked it up a bit” against the tough competition.

“I love these guys. They gave us the best they could do. That’s all I can ask. We came out in the second half and we really competed. It was an even game in the second half.”

A strong drive to the hoop by Brown left the Dons down by just six at the end of the first quarter, 22-16.

St. John Bosco accelerated its transition game in the second period and went on a 10-0 run to expand its lead to 32-16. The Braves (18-11) outscored the Dons 19-5 in the quarter and led 41-21 at halftime. Lightning quick Alpha Okoli attacked the rim and got to the free-throw line. He made 5-of-6 free throws to go with a three-pointer and a two-point basket for 10 points. He and Whiteside shared high-scoring honors with 21 points apiece.

Whiteside scored on a fast break, assisted on another and made an acrobatic jumper at the end of the second period.

Douglas knocked down a trio of three-pointers in the second half and Brown and Taylor Padilla each hit one, as the Dons kept battling.

“We came out and we didn’t quit,” Bregante said. “I told the kids I was proud of them. They hung in there. We were just outmatched physically everywhere. They were bigger, stronger, faster, quicker everywhere, but we gave it our best.”

After playing in the 2A championship game last year, Brown said “it was an honor we got put in (the 1AA) bracket. It meant a lot to us. It showed how big of a year we had last year. We just accepted the challenge and played hard.”

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