MODESTO — The way the game started, it was safe to assume that the Turlock boys basketball team was going to give the few dozen fans inside the cold Panther Palace gym on the Modesto High campus reasons to go home early.
Alek Carson scored about 10 seconds after tipoff. Ashton Richardson had two thundering dunks in the first quarter. Anthony Hubbard looked in control of his play in Turlock’s season opener on Saturday afternoon, while Matt Ruesga, a Hilmar High transfer, was making a nice debut with a couple put-back baskets.
But let’s not jump to conclusions.
Again, this was Turlock’s first game. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter, when Modesto’s first field goal of the period came with 3 minutes left, that fans — especially dejected Modesto fans — thought about making an early exit. Turlock held on to win 62-51, thanks to hitting clutch free throws and a tightfisted, fourth-quarter defensive effort that held the Panthers to a lowly nine points, with most of them coming after the victory was sealed.
“What I saw was some good, some bad,” said coach Doug Cornfoot, whose Bulldogs have now beaten Modesto four straight times.
The good: Turlock finished with three double-digit scorers in Ruesga (14 points), Carlson (13 points) and Hubbard (12 points on 6-for-6 shooting from the foul line).
The bad: Hubbard, Turlock’s top returning scorer and a three-year varsity starter, got his second foul early on, forcing him to miss much of the first half.
The good: The Bulldogs hit four of their last six free throws in the final 3:20 to discourage a Panthers team that missed most of its field-goal attempts in the fourth.
The bad: Turlock struggled against a stingy defense that implemented a full-court press throughout the afternoon, as the Bulldogs, who led from the opening tip, found themselves behind 35-34 at the 4:56 mark in the third quarter.
“We need to slow down better,” Hubbard offered afterward. “If we’re on a fast break and we don’t have it, we need to bring it back out and restart the offense.”
Another good: The Bulldogs regained the lead and never fell behind again, finishing the game shooting 20-for-36 from the field.
“There are things that we could do better,” said Turlock’s Richardson, who finished with seven points, five rebounds and two standing ovation-worthy dunks.
He also recognized that Modesto (0-2) was a physical team, even with a roster with only one returning starter from a 12-win season. On the other hand, the Bulldogs have back three starters — Connor Pearson (eight points, five rebounds), Hubbard and Richardson — from last season’s team that advanced to the CIF State Tournament, a rare feat for a team in the Stanislaus District.
But again, this was only the first game.
The Bulldogs next play Davis High in the first round of the Frank Godinez Tournament at Turlock High’s Bulldog Arena at 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday.
Saturday’s win over Modesto, as Hubbard puts it, was “a momentum-builder.”
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.