There was little doubt heading into the season that the Menlo School boys basketball team would be very good. On Saturday in its season opener the Knights showed that, yes, they might be a team to keep an eye on.
Menlo opened at crosstown rival Menlo-Atherton and pulled away in the second half for a 59-47 victory.
“I think they’ll have a tremendous year,’’ Menlo-Atherton coach Mike Molieri said. “Physically they’re tough to match up with. I think they could be a (CCS) Open team.’’
Molieri knows something about what it takes to make the Open as his Menlo-Atherton teams were part of the eight-team Central Coast Section Open Division the last two years, going a combined 51-13 over those two seasons. Molieri has most of his team back from last season, with the notable exception of two-time Peninsula Athletic League South Division MVP Eric Norton.
“I don’t know who my go-to guy is,’’ Molieri said.
Menlo coach Keith Larsen has two or three of them. Senior point guard Joe Foley, a Lehigh commit, led the way Saturday with 20 points. Thomas Brown, a 6-4 senior wing, scored 16 and Riley Woodson, a 6-7 senior post, had 10. And that doesn’t include Cole Kastner, a 6-7 sophomore with guard skills, who chipped in with 8.
“When you see how raw we were, losing the ball, making bad decisions, we still cause a lot of problems because of our talent and how long we are,’’ Menlo coach Keith Larsen said. “It’s nice to win ugly. The nice thing about winning ugly is you see a lot of things on tape you can bring to practice the next week and work on.’’
Menlo led 15-11 after one quarter. M-A turned up the intensity defensively in the second quarter and eight of Menlo’s first 11 possessions of the quarter resulted in turnovers. The Bears took advantage to go on a 13-2 run with a 3-pointer by Bradley Stillman in transition giving them a 26-19 lead.
But Menlo righted itself and closed the quarter with a 10-0 run for a 29-26 halftime lead. Brown started the run with a 3-pointer, Woodson scored on a fastbreak layup. Brown scored to tie it and Nate Solomon knocked down a 3 to put the Knights on top.
“Once we get all our football guys we’ll be able to play a lineup where the smallest guy is 6-3,’’ Larsen said. “We played no zone today, I tried to keep it simple. But I think our strength will be in changing defenses.’’
Menlo used an 8-0 blitz in the third quarter to break away from a 33-33 deadlock. M-A pulled within two on two occasions in the fourth quarter, the final time at 45-43. Menlo responded with a bucket by Woodson, a fastbreak hoop by Kastner off a pass from Foley and a three-point play by Brown to make it 52-43.
“We had some looks,’’ Molieri said. “In our gym we’ve got to make those shots. Our goal was to pick up the tempo, but that ended up hurting us. They made adjustments and got the ball into Foley’s hands. That was the difference. We’ll be fine. But we’re a defense-first team and right now our defense isn’t close to years past.’’
James Beckwith led M-A with 12 points.
Elsewhere, Eric DeBrine scored 12 points but Sacred Heart Prep dropped a 51-28 decision to Mills in the consolation championship of the Crusader Classic at Riordan on Saturday.
The Gators (1-2) open the Burlingame Lions Tournament against Aragon on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.
Also at Burlingame, Menlo meets Stuart Hall at 5 p.m and Palo Alto makes its debut with a 6:30 p.m. game against Half Moon Bay.