Thomas’ strong second half propels Damien past Maranatha in basketball playoffs – The Pasadena Star-News

PASADENA >> The Damien boys basketball team gave its fans cause for concern in the first half of Friday night’s game at Maranatha High. The Spartans’ shooting was below the standards they established during the season and team leader Malik Thomas was in trouble with three fouls.

It was Thomas’ second-half performance that proved to be difference as he scored 18 of his game-high 28 points, along with grabbing six rebounds, to propel Damien to a 59-43 victory over the Minutemen (13-14) in a CIF Southern Section Division 1 first-round playoff game.

Damien (24-5) will host Los Altos in a much-anticipated second-round game Tuesday night. The Conquerors defeated visiting Crossroads, 81-70.

“I just know when it is time to take over a game, when my team needs me the most,” said Thomas, who is considered by scouts as one of top sophomores in the state. “Being there for my team, I have to take them on my back and fight and get this win.”

Freshman R.J Smith propelled Damien’s offensive production in the third quarter, scoring seven points as part of a 17-6 run that gave the Spartans a comfortable 47-29 lead.

While most of the attention rightfully shines on Thomas, it was the first-half performance of forward Ifeyani Okeye that can’t be overlooked. The 6-foot-6 forward scored eight of the team’s 26 points in the half, while always being in position to grab rebounds on both ends of the court.

“(Okeye) always comes through for us. He’s really important to us,” Damien coach Mike LeDuc said of Okeye’s performance. “He does a lot for us to get us baskets and get us easy wins.”

Okeye finished the evening with 10 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.

“We weren’t shooting the ball very well in the first half,” Okeye said of the team’s sub-par effort early. “But we got some fast breaks going and got into some jumping lanes and that got us going.”

LeDuc was also quick to acknowledge Maranatha coach Tim Tucker for a defensive game plan that had the Spartans on their heels in the first half.

“I thought coach Tucker did a great job and they made all the right moves early, making it difficult for us,” LeDuc said. “We didn’t shoot the ball very well, but we have a lot of young guys and this was the first time they’ve been in the playoffs.”

Maranatha forward Uriah Foster pumped in 15 points and added nine rebounds and guard Gilbert Camacho Jr had 11 points with five rebounds.

The stage is set for Tuesday night’s showdown against Los Altos and CIF-SS all-time leading scorer Jarod Lucas.

Thomas is more than ready to show off his elite skills in the area showdown.

“Los Altos, it’s going to be a good one, it’s going to be a show,” Thomas said. “We’ve become very competitive and we’re going to go after them, no doubt about it.”

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