Basketball St. Anthony Wilson

Boys’ Basketball: St. Anthony Holds Off Wilson, 57-51

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.

When a timeout was called with 2:10 left on the third quarter clock, St. Anthony head coach Allen Mitchell welcomed his team back to the bench with an emotional yell and a series of high fives. Mitchell is never shy when it comes to showing emotion on the sidelines, but this was a pivotal moment in Friday night’s game against Wilson.

The Saints hadn’t been playing their best basketball, and even surrendered the lead for the first time during that third quarter. But senior guard Quincy Phillips had just scored consecutive baskets only a few seconds apart, after the Saints stole the inbounds pass and got it right back to their top scorer.

That put the Saints back in front, and they wouldn’t lose their lead again in a hard-fought 57-51 victory over the visiting Bruins.

“It was crucial to wake this gym up,” said Mitchell of his emotional outburst during that timeout, which he hoped would get the student section more involved. “That Pit has been rockin’ for 100 years. It was rocking, but it wasn’t rocking … but that was due to what we were putting on the floor with our performance. And I needed to let that out, man. I honestly needed to let it out.”

After lighting a fire under his team, Mitchell saw the Saints go on a 12-4 run spanning the third and fourth quarters, opening up their largest lead of the night, 49-39, early in the final period.

“Coach is very passionate about the game,” said Phillips, who had a game-high 23 points for St. Anthony. “We feed off each other’s energy. We see him fired up, then we get fired up.”

Phillips was a terror off the dribble, routinely driving the lane for scores at the rim. He had multiple buckets in every quarter while running the Saints offense against a feisty and hungry opponent.

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Wilson head coach James Boykin was pleased with how his team competed in a tough environment, especially considering their lack of experience at this early stage of the season.

“We’re a gritty team. These guys work hard as hell,” said Boykin of his team. “They’re gonna fight and compete. I’m feeling mixed emotions, just because I know we’re young and part of our thing early in this year is trying to learn how to close out games. I felt this was another winnable game, a coin flip tonight as far as my guys coming in here battling. There was growth in that area, there definitely was, but we still got more work to do.”

Senior Hayden Rodriguez led a balanced scoring attack for Wilson with 12 points. Sophomore Jeremiah Graham added nine points while Nathaniel Parris and Airus Allen each had seven.

The Bruins were able to hang tough in the first half, moving the ball well and limiting turnovers against the St. Anthony pressure. The Bruins then opened the third quarter on a run, snagging a 35-33 lead when a Karim Caldwell steal turned into a bucket for Parris.

That’s when Phillips converted his back-to-back buckets, and Mitchell helped get his team back into gear. Whenever the Saints needed points, Phillips was there on Friday night, and he said it all came down to just doing what they do.

“Just discipline and sticking to the script,” Phillips said of how the Saints were able to hold on. “Keep playing defense, keep moving the ball, and keep playing unselfish basketball.”

Phillips was instrumental in the run that helped the Saints to a double-digit lead in the fourth, but the Bruins battled back to within two thanks to a quick 8-0 run. After a three by Parris, Graham followed with another triple and then a no-look dime to Evan Mack to make it a 49-47 game with 4:30 left to play.

“I love the fight in this team. And that’s what I tell these guys all the time is it’s not an effort thing with us,” Boykin said. “We’re taking our lumps right now because we’re pretty young and inexperienced. So for these guys to continue to fight like that, for me it’s expected, but it’s a prouder moment to see it happening in this environment. Against a really, really, really good team. For these guys to fight back, I love that part.”

St. Anthony countered with a beautifully designed play, allowing Phillips to assist Aman Haynes for an open layup. Haynes made it a six-point lead after a steal and a breakaway dunk, giving the Saints just enough separation to hold on. Haynes finished with 12 points on the night.

It wasn’t a pretty win for the Saints, but that’s never been a priority for that program. Coach Mitchell doesn’t mind a hard-fought battle, and knows there will be many more for this team coming up.

“I’ll take a dogfight any day. I’m from the west side of Compton, we embrace dogfights,” Mitchell said. “You know how tough our league is. It’s not blowouts, it’s dogfights every single night. That’s what makes your skin thick. That’s what makes your unit tighter. So I love it, man. My boys love a dogfight.”

St. Anthony (6-1) has a quick turnaround before getting back in the ring against Leuzinger on Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, Wilson (4-4) will host Costa Mesa on Monday.

VIDEO: St. Anthony vs. Wilson, Boys’ Basketball
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Tyler Hendrickson
Tyler Hendrickson was born and raised in Long Beach, and started covering sports in his hometown in 2010. After five years as a sportswriter, Tyler joined the athletic department at Long Beach State University in 2015. He spent more than four years in the athletic communications department, working primarily with the Dirtbags baseball program. Tyler also co-authored of The History of Long Beach Poly: Scholars & Champions.