BURBANK — Thanks to an unrelenting defense and a balanced scoring attack, the St. Francis High boys' basketball team secured itself an early holiday gift.
The Golden Knights forced 24 turnovers, while seven players scored four or more points in a dominating 65-39 victory in the championship game of the 24th annual Providence Paul Sutton Tip-Off Classic on Saturday evening.
"This is a confidence booster for right now, especially early on," St. Francis sophomore wingman Markar Aghakanian said. "We're not satisfied, we're still going to go forward and do our best, like we did in this tournament."
Aghakanian may have turned in the best performance of his fledgling career as he led all scorers with 19 points, 11 rebounds and four steals.
All but one of Aghakanian's points came in a first half in which the 6-foot-3 player nearly single-handedly outscored the Mustangs as the Golden Knights (4-0) led, 37-19, at the break.
Aghakanian scored 10 of St. Francis' first 12 points of the game as the Golden Knights raced out to a 12-4 lead that eventually ballooned to an 18-7 advantage with 2:14 left in the first on a running layup from Noah Willerford (eight points) off a steal and assist from Philip Little.
The turnover was one of 10 forced by St. Francis in a first quarter it led, 18-12.
The Golden Knights then created some separation in the second quarter, winning the period, 19-7, behind Salesian's seven turnovers.
St. Francis went up, 24-12, after a four-footer from John Carroll (six points) with 5:43 left before the Mustangs (3-1) made their last real charge, closing their deficit to six points behind back-to-back three-pointers from senior guard Cristian Robles with 4:50 left.
Yet, with the score at 24-18, the Golden Knights responded with a pivotal 13-1 run, fueled by a pair of steals from sophomore Kyle Leufroy and Aghakanian, to close the half up 18 and never look back.
"We have good coaches who prepared us for this game to force turnovers," Leufroy said. "We just anticipated well on defense."
Salesian never closed its second-half deficit to less than 16 points and was outscored, 11-4, in the third quarter, which rendered the fourth quarter as little more than additional practice for both teams.
Leufroy, who finished with 11 points, five steals and five assists, was named Tournament MVP, while junior forward Evan Crawford was selected to the tournament first-team.
"It means a lot to win this because I know that (Providence High sophomore) Marcus Lovett, one of the best players in the country, goes here," Leufroy said. "For me to win it over him feels really good."
Salesian's Kris Chavez (team-leading 11 points) and Robles, along with LACES' Robert Dickerson and Providence's Christian Ware-Berry were also named to the all-tournament team.