By Ray Hamill — The Corsairs turned in a near-perfect first-half defensive performance on the way to a comfortable 80-59 win over Sierra in their home opener in men’s basketball on Thursday night.
Playing in front of a large crowd eager to see this year’s team of local all-stars for the first time, the College of the Redwoods men came storming out of the gates, opening up a quick double-digit lead and not allowing the visitors back within touching distance after that, thanks in large part to their stellar defense.
“I thought defensively in the first half we almost pitched a shutout,” CR head coach Ryan Bisio said. “You take away some of the free throws and it was one of the cleanest defensive halves that I can remember from these guys.”
They weren’t too shabby on offense either, hitting the 80-point mark for the fourth straight game, all wins, after hitting it just once in their opening eight games.
That suggests this team is growing, on both sides of the ball.
It helps when you have four starters who played together in high school on a very good Fortuna High team a year ago, and when your first two players off the bench played with those four on travel teams for the past three years.
And it doesn’t end there for this talented group.
“You throw an athlete like Thomas Nelson into the mix and it becomes something greater than the sum of their parts,” Bisio said.
Nelson is certainly a good athlete, and has led the way on this team through the early season.
He was in top form once again on Thursday, scoring a team-high 24 points.
Drew Gillette added 14 points, including four 3-pointers, while Isaac Puzz continued to impress off the bench, finishing with 10 points, including two 3s.
Puzz drained one of his 3s with just under 90 seconds remaining in the first half to stretch the advantage to 17, and there was no way back for the visitors after that, not with the way the CR defense was playing.
Bisio said his players fed off the crowd early in the game, and they were certainly primed to go despite a near two-week layoff.
“I thought their energy really spurred us to get that cushion,” Bisio said of the home fans. “And I thought we did a pretty good job of just settling down and playing.
“I thought we looked poised. I’m sure the turnover count was high but we still got to 80.”
Donald Willis added nine points in the win, as CR improved to 9-3, while Zac Claus finished with eight points and Anthony Stubbs six.
The Corsairs had 11 3-pointers for the night.
With the game out of reach in the second half, the intensity died down, and Bisio admits his players are still learning how to put together a complete game.
“Even when you have a lead, you still have to play for 40 minutes,” he said. “But that’s the growth we still have to make.”
The three-day tournament continues on Friday with Sierra playing Shasta at 4 p.m., followed by Mendocino and Southwestern Oregon at 7 p.m.
And Bisio is a big admirer of the athletic Mendocino Eagles, with whom his team has split two games this year.
“I would encourage anybody who likes basketball to come out and see Mendocino play,” the CR head coach said.
CR Women 59, Simpson JV 47
The CR women won their fourth straight to go to 6-2 on the season, opening the Shasta tournament with a 12-point victory over Simpson JV.
Ashley Quigley continued her impressive start to the season with a team-high 15 points, while Dennise Horton finished with 14 points and Brianna Green 10.
Quigley, a former Arcata Tiger, has been in sensational form to start the season and came into Thursday’s game averaging 20.2 points a game and shooting 89.5 percent from the free-throw line.
The Corsairs continue tourney play against West LA on Friday at 3 p.m.