The perfect start is over.
After racing off to a 9-0 record, the South Pas High basketball Tigers dropped their first two games of the season over the holiday break, losing to Maranatha and Santa Monica in the SoCal Christmas Classic before rebounding to topple Sylmar.
“As a team, it was just a learning experience,’’ Tiger senior star Billy Reed said after last Thursday’s 49-40 loss to Marantha at Pasadena High, where the Tigers hosted the tourney while their South Pas gym undergoes renovations.
“This is the best team we’ve played, by far.”
The Tigers, now 10-2, started the game strong, playing solid defense on Maranatha’s two bigs — senior Christian Oliver and freshman Terrance Hampton Jr. But the second quarter was much different, as South Pas went into a shooting slump, scoring just four points as Maranatha switched to a 3-2 zone.
Head coach Ernest Baskerville said the Tigers’ game plan was to minimize Oliver’s touches.
“I think early, we kind of rattled [Oliver] a little bit and got him out of his rhythm, and in the second half, he got a chance to catch the ball really deep,” Baskerville said. “We tried to keep [Oliver and Hampton] from getting very low post touches, but they were able to get them. They are two big strong guys — one is 6-10 and the other one is 6-5, so it’s hard to keep those bodies out of the paint.”
South Pas senior forward Alan Quan hit back-to-back threes toward the end of the third quarter to pull the Tigers closer, but they were still down by 10 at the end of the period. The Minutemen’s offense was going through their bigs to end the game, and South Pas never could catch up.
Oliver finished with 23 points and Hampton with 14 for Maranatha, while Reed finished with 13 points and Quan had 11 for the Tigers.
“I think we brought the energy today — I know the coaches would say that we had that one lapse in the second quarter,’’ Quan said. “We shot poorly and the ball became stagnant because they threw in a zone, but then the second half, we regrouped and came back, and we started fighting again but we just couldn’t get over the hump in the second half.”
The Tigers came back into the gym on Friday looking for a win against Santa Monica, but couldn’t get past the trap and lost 52-40.
Santa Monica started the game aggressively and played a full-court press all game, leading to South Pasadena’s 18 turnovers.
The Tigers were down by only one at the end of the first, stayed close in the second quarter and took their first lead midway through the period.
But Santa Monica came out of halftime with energy and forced turnovers in the third quarter. The Tigers turning over the ball became a big problem, and the Vikings led by six at the end of the third. The mistakes continued in the fourth, and despite climbing back into the game toward the end, the Tigers lost the second game in a row.
“We threw the ball away. They were long and athletic — they got steals and they capitalized off of our mistakes,” Baskerville said. “We just can’t make mistakes like that. You shouldn’t have 18 turnovers against anybody but especially against good teams.”
Reed led his team with 24 points and nine rebounds.
The Tigers came out strong on Saturday against Sylmar and got off to a double-digit lead early. Despite allowing Sylmar to climb back, the Tigers finished the quarter up four points. South Pas continued to be aggressive in the second quarter and went into halftime up by three points.
Sylmar started the third quarter on a 5-0 run and took its first lead of the game. It was back and forth with lead changes on both ends, and South Pasadena’s sloppy play kept the Spartans in the game, but the Tigers kept a four-point lead at the end of the third.
South Pas woke up in the fourth and got out to another double digit lead that Sylmar was able to climb back from due to turnovers. Sylmar’s full-court press forced a lot of mistakes and the game almost slipped out of the Tigers’ hands — but they ultimately finished strong and came out with a 60-56 win.
“I kind of had an idea about how they were going to play,” Baskerville said. “I knew at some point they were going to start pressing. In the beginning, they didn’t and we knocked down a lot of shots and [Sylmar] had to start picking things up. We had 20 turnovers — you can’t have 20 turnovers and win, but we did. Usually when you have 20 turnovers, you’re giving up about 20 points, so we almost beat ourselves, but luckily we didn’t.
“The last two games we played before, I thought that we played well, but we had those bad quarters. We had a bad second quarter (against Sylmar). I told them at halftime ‘Hey, you got the bad quarter out of the way — let’s play well the rest of the way’ and they did.”
Reed finished with 19 points and senior Rodney Ortega added 10 points.
The Tigers were supposed to finish off the Christmas Classic on Monday against Redmond of Washington, but they didn’t end up playing. Baskerville said he didn’t want to accept a forfeited win and will be scheduling another game to replace it.
South Pas’ next contest will be on Saturday against Bosco Tech at 2:45 p.m. in the opening game of the East L.A. College Showcase.