Damien’s Defense Proves Too Taxing in 52-44 Win Over Bearcats

February 23, 2011
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Damien Coach Matt Dunn

Damien Coach Matt Dunn

 There are three things you can count on in this world: death, taxes and the Damien Spartans going to the CIF-Southern Section semi-finals every year. To get there, the Spartans had to win the bruising Battle of La Verne, as they shut down the Bonita Bearcats late to win 52-44 on their home court before a thunderous sell-out crowd.

Damien center Chris Reyes, who was averaging more than 18 points a game, was held to just 5 points, but his tip-in of a driving Clayton White lap-up with 1:27 left in the fourth quarter gave the Spartans a 48-44 lead when the contest was still largely in doubt.

“I don’t know that people give Chris enough credit for how much he affects the game offensively,” Damien head coach Matt Dunn said. “Bonita did a nice job trying to take him away, but he was really active, and we got a lot of really good shots just because he was on the floor.

“He affected the game like he always does on both ends of the floor, and our other guys were good enough to make plays when we needed them to.”

Reyes, who at times was double- and triple-teamed by Bonita’s swarming defense, said he was content to get his other teammates involved.

“I just wanted to make sure other guys scored today,” said Reyes, who heard chants of MVP after his big tip-in. He also had eight blocks.

After the pivotal tip-in, the game turned into a free-throw shooting contest that Damien won. In the decisive fourth quarter, Bonita pulled within two points once and three points thrice, but could get no closer.

Again, it was often the long arm of Reyes setting the tone for the Spartans’ defense emphatically blocking several shots including a statement block right before the half when he swatted a Bonita three-point attempt several rows into the crowd as he led his team into the locker room with a 26-20 lead.

Bonita actually won the first quarter 14-13 on Jordan Butler’s eight points, including two treys, despite the Spartans’ game plan to try to shut down Bonita’s excellent backcourt tandem of Butler and James Northup.

To start the second, however, Damien put together a 6-0 run on baskets by JP Chakbazoff, Gian Demano and Clayton White to take a 20-14 lead, leaving Bonita to play catch-up the rest of the night.

With so much attention focused on limiting any offensive damage by Reyes, other Damien players stepped up, including J.J. Pavia, who scored seven of his team-high 10 points in the second half. Equally impressive were guards White and Demano with nine points each and Chakbazoff with six points.

Like Reyes, Chakbazoff’s greatest contribution came on defense, according to Dunn.

“About J.B., I’ve said all year he’s the guy who makes us unique,” Dunn said. “All summer, all fall and all winter, I don’t know we’ve lost when he’s been really good. He’s a tremendous athlete. I don’t know what he did offensively, but I know he did an unbelievable job on Northup, and that was probably the difference in the game. He didn’t feel great coming into the game, but he put forth a special effort.”

Between them, Butler and Northup still put up 26 points, but any time either guard tried to penetrate the lane, there was a host of Spartans to greet them, which trigggered several key turnovers. All night, the Spartans played impressive defense, denying any easy looks or fast breaks by Bonita.

Bonita posed a major obstacle to Damien’s goal of returning to the semifinals for the third year in a row, but the Spartans found a way around it.

“It’s special any time we can beat them,” Dunn said. “That’s kind of the way you feel when you have a lot of respect for your opponent. But obviously, to do it in the quarterfinals, to give our team a chance to play in the semifinals, we’re really excited about that.

“I can’t say enough about how much respect I have for coach (Greg) Eckler, their team and their program,” Dunn added. “For two teams that know each other really well, it’s hard to play well. I thought both teams were exceptional defensively, and we just made a couple more shots than they did tonight.”

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