SAN MATEO, Calif. — With the unenviable task of replacing three of their top players from last year’s 28-6 team, the Stuart Hall Knights entered Wednesday’s season-opening trip to Aragon with question marks all around the floor.
While their first game of the year wasn’t a masterpiece by any means, there were enough positives for the Knights to jump out to a double-digit lead and hold on late for a 60-57 win, with the few returning impact players from last year’s team showing up in key roles.
“We were motivated,” said Kyle Jasper, who scored a game-high 24 points. “We lost four seniors and Nigel (Burris, who transferred to Mitty), so everyone has to step up. I worked really hard this offseason trying to expand my game.”
Primarily used off the bench as a 3-point shooter during his junior season, Jasper opened his senior year with a bang by hitting a corner three for the Knights’ first basket of the season, and starred in all facets of the game.
“Obviously, he’s a great shooter,” head coach Charley Johnson said. “He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever coached. I was proud of his on-ball defense. We know the offense is going to be there.”
Jasper was instrumental in helping Stuart Hall (1-0) open up a 23-13 lead by the end of the first quarter, then brought the advantage to 11 by the end of the third quarter after the Dons had closed the gap to one at halftime. A Jasper 3-pointer, one of three he hit on the afternoon, provided the first points of the quarter before Aragon (0-1) tried to key in on him, opening up opportunities for the Knights’ two returning starters, Jay-Henry Ryan and Tomas Wolber.
Wolber, a varsity player since his freshman year, finished with 12 points and eight assists. He hit a pair of threes in the third and had five assists and three steals in a dominant first quarter.
“For me, I need to take on a bigger role scoring-wise,” he said. “Last year, I was mainly a facilitator. This year, I’m going to have to take more shots.”
Those shots in the third helped the visitors re-establish their dominance after getting outscored 16-7 in the second, and they led 50-39 entering the fourth on a Ryan layup off a heads-up pass from Joe Weinstein as the buzzer sounded. Jasper, who went 7-for-8 at the line, had eight in the fourth for the Knights, opening up what appeared to be a comfortable 10-point lead with four minutes left before Aragon made one last push, getting an off-balance three from Dennis Fasnacht as the shot clock expired. Jace Jeremiah, who led the Dons with 17, hit a three to cut the lead to seven with two minutes left, but when Fasnacht committed his fifth foul with 1:41 remaining and Jasper made two more free throws, the game appeared to be in good hands.
Aragon wasn’t done, though. Murphy Caffo, who finished with 15 points and eight bounds, scored on the following possession, and though the Knights were able to run off 30 seconds on their next trip down the court, a steal led to a Jeremiah layup. Wolber committed an offensive foul with 30.8 left and Jeremiah scored again to cut the lead to three, and the Dons had a shot at the tie when Wolber missed a free throw with 15.1 seconds left. They found reserve Jack Fitzgerald on the wing for a three, but it rimmed out and the Knights were able to tick off the final seconds.
“At the end, it was on me,” Wolber said. “I’ve got to be better in the backcourt.”
Ryan matched Wolber with 12 points while the Dons got nine points and nine rebounds from one of their key returners, Matthew Mukai. The hosts held a convincing 40-25 advantage on the glass, a concern for Johnson.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to rebound the ball, and I think that’ll be a thing that sticks with us all season,” he said after Aragon grabbed 17 offensive rebounds to his team’s eight. “Classic first game. Kind of played out the way I thought it would, so I’ll try not to be too negative.”
Stuart Hall travels to Miramonte on Saturday. The Matadors are coached by Chris Lavdiotis, who served as the head man at Lowell last season.