The first half of Clovis North’s boys basketball season opener went completely off-script.
The Broncos struggled to defend a potent Bakersfield Christian offense and could not find their own shot. In its first game in over a year, Clovis North was kicking rust off the tires.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t even follow our game plan for the first half,” said Clovis North head coach Tony Amundsen. “At halftime, we reiterated the game plan and told them how important it was to pick that pressure up on the ball and get our rotations down. If the emphasis came on defense, then we’d be able to flow a little bit more on offense and we did.”
Clovis North saw marked improvement in both departments in the second half, overcoming a 16-point halftime deficit to defeat Bakersfield Christian on Thursday, 71-68.
The game went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter until Clovis North led 69-68 with 29.1 seconds left in the game. Bakersfield Christian fouled freshman Connor Amundsen, putting him at the line for a one-and-one free throw situation.
Playing in his first career high school game, Amundsen cooly knocked down both free throws to give Clovis North a three-point lead. Bakersfield Christian missed its first attempt to tie the game, but still had another chance with three seconds remaining.
The Eagles’ inbounds pass missed its target and Amundsen scooped it up, dribbled the clock out and threw the basketball up towards the rafters.
“I was excited and I knew they were trying to foul me,” said Amundsen, who led the Broncos with 18 points. “There was one second left. I threw it up so that there was no more time.”
The steal and heady move by the freshman sealed Clovis North’s first win of the season — and the first for the Amundsen father-son combination.
“You know, it’s funny because I probably spend more time thinking about it when we’re off the court,” said Tony Amundsen. “Once I’m on the court and I’m coaching all of the guys, I don’t really even think about it.”
“Whatever we say in practice is there and then when we come home, I’m Dad. When we’re on the court, don’t call me Dad.”
Connor scored 11 points in the third quarter to help the Broncos dig out of a 41-25 deficit at halftime. Amundsen held a hot hand — he drained a trio of 3-pointers in the third quarter.
Senior AK Okereke stepped up in the second half as well, scoring 10 of his 12 points after halftime. Foul trouble limited Okereke’s minutes in the first half, but his offense inside the paint and energy on defense boosted the Broncos.
Senior guard Niko Jones also knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the third to join Clovis North’s comeback effort. The Broncos cut the Eagles’ lead to 53-50 with under a minute left in the third.
Freshman Jordan Espinoza delivered with a layup to cut the deficit to one, then stole the inbounds pass and scored another layup to give Clovis North a 54-53 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Bakersfield Christian battled the Broncos all the way through Thursday night’s contest, displaying the talent that landed the Eagles a Central Section Division-III championship and an eight-game winning streak to end the 2019-20 season.
The Eagles locked up a spot in the Division-IV state championship game last season before COVID-19 concerns canceled the state basketball tournament. They returned Seth Marantos, Zach Hiebert and Charlie Stump from last year’s team, all of whom started Thursday night.
Marantos scored 10 points in the first half, while Hiebert scored 14 for the entire game. Juniors Erick Chaney and Jackson Tucker each scored 19 points for the Eagles, tying for the team-high.
Bakersfield Christian (0-2) will play at Clovis West on Monday, while Clovis North (1-0) will play Kingsburg at home Monday. Then, both teams play each other again on Tuesday in Bakersfield.