The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly is sponsored by Bryson Financial
Los Angeles’ Westchester High on a rainy Wednesday was the site of the Battle For Long Beach, as St. Anthony and Long Beach Poly kicked off their seasons in the Westchester Tipoff Classic. The Saints used early hot shooting to jump out to a lead and dominated the contest against the Jackrabbits, winning their third straight game over Poly with an 85-59 victory.
“It means a lot for us and St. Anthony, man, a small little school on Sixth Street,” said Saints coach Alan Mitchell.
The Saints have been ascendant in the city under Mitchell and Allen Caveness before him, with a six-point win last year and a 53-38 win over Poly two years ago. Given that the Jackrabbits are the state’s all-time wins leader and have brought home 20 CIF-SS titles with seven NBA alums, Mitchell said his coaches and school are aware of how significant it is to beat them consistently.
“Their longevity sticks with them, and they got Peyton Watson in the NBA, it’s always gonna be that separation,” he said. “But as long as we keep showing up to games like this, and we keep battling every year, then you put that on the line, that’s pride for both schools.”
Both schools came out playing hard on D, and they combined to miss their first 11 shots as the first two minutes of the game were scoreless. But while Poly used its size advantage to defend the rim, the Saints were comfortable living beyond the arc early–they hit five 3-pointers in the first quarter to build a 23-10 lead after the first period.
It was more of the same in the second quarter as Quincy Phillips (30 points) and JoJo Wicker (15 points) continued to bomb away. Even as the Saints built a 53-27 lead early in the second quarter, Mitchell was pleading with his team not to fall in love with the long ball.
“The only way to get open is if you get a paint touch,” he said. “With the rule change (on foul counts to get to the bonus) you have to put pressure on the rim first. We want to be play a little bit faster than we did tonight, but with the matchup we had to do what was needed to get the victory.”
What they did for much of the game was lean heavily on senior guard Quincy Phillips and sophomore guard JoJo Wicker, who combined for 45 points and who looked comfortable dealing with Poly’s pressure defense.
“It’s a great win for us,” said Phillips. “The majority of our team it’s their first time playing with us and this was just a great team win.”
The Saints led 39-24 at halftime after a hotly-contested second quarter, but the Saints came out and put the game away quickly in the third, opening on a 14-3 run that effectively ended the game as they went up 53-27.
Asked what he thought set the Saints apart as a team this year, Phillips didn’t hesitate to answer.
“It’s our grit and our hunger,” he said. “I feel like we want it more than other teams and that just gives us the edge.”
The Saints got strong performances from Aman Haynes and Amaan Zavahir (11 points each).
The Jackrabbits got 30 points from junior standout Jovani Ruff, backed up by Nana Ofoegbu (12 points) and Giovanni Ofoegbu (11 points). Poly showed flashes of how good their young roster can be if they keep working, but also may have seen more of those flashes wearing purple. At one point late in the game a Saints guard dove on the floor after a loose ball and Poly assistant coach Brandon Staton yelled at his backcourt, “He’s diving on the floor up 25 points!”
Poly returns to action at Westchester against the host Comets Friday at 7pm and then faces St. John Bosco at Bosco Saturday at 6pm. St. Anthony will face Paramount, Downey, Artesia and Valley Christian over the next two weeks.