Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Half Moon Bay’s Rico Nuno goes scores two of his team-high 19 points as the Cougars beat Aragon 77-66 in the first round of the Burlingame Lions Club Invitational.
The Half Moon Bay boys’ basketball team is not shying away from sky-high expectations this season. With four of five starters from last year’s Central Coast Section Division IV finals team, and 10 players who saw significant playing time last season, the time is now for the Cougars to do something special.
“We hope to be in the [CCS] Open Division,” said Half Moon Bay coach Rich Forslund. “That’s our goal.”
As such, Wednesday’s matchup against Aragon in the first round of the Burlingame Lions Club Invitational served as the Cougars’ first real test of the 2013-14 season.
With center Rico Nuno pouring in 19 points and pulling down 13 rebounds, and Corey Cilia adding 18 points, the Cougars came flying out of the gate to take a 25-7 lead after the first quarter and then held off the Dons for a 77-66 victory.
“I think [a tough opponent] is great for us,” Forslund said. “We did some things very well.”
Day 2 of the Burlingame Lions Club Invitational continues today at Burlingame High School. Games are scheduled for 3:15 p.m., 4:45 p.m., 6:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.
Half Moon Bay (4-0 overall) showed it can beat teams in several ways. The Cougars are comfortable in the half-court set, but can get out and run when they need to. They struggled at times against Aragon’s full-court press, but also adjusted and broke it with relative ease on several occasions.
Aragon, on the other hand, came out at less than 100 percent, fell behind big early and had to play catch-up the rest of the way.
“We got in a hole. They ran their sets really well in the first quarter,” said Aragon coach Sam Manu. “We were right on cusp (of erasing the deficit) but we couldn’t get over the hump.”
Down 18 after the first quarter, Aragon (3-1) turned up the pressure defensively which jump-started the Dons’ offense. They outscored the Cougars 19-8 in the second quarter and trailed just 33-26 at halftime.
The second half was a blur as both teams hit their strides. The teams combined for 84 second-half points. When Kevin Hahn knocked down the third of his game-high five 3-pointers, the Dons trailed just 40-38 with 4:24 to play in the third quarter. But the Cougars responded with a 17-4 run to close the period and lead 57-42 going into the fourth quarter.
Aragon knocked down four 3-pointers in the fourth period, but Half Moon Bay never panicked. The fact the Dons are such prolific 3-point shooters meant Forslund’s team could never relax.
“They can knock down a lot of 3s,” Forslund said. “They give us some matchup problems.”
It was the 3-pointer that kept the Dons in the game as they hit 10 of them.
“They put a zone on us and we love playing (against the) zone,” Manu said. “[We] love shooting from the outside.”
Aragon was paced by point guard Alex Manu who, despite struggling from the field with his shot, led all scorers with 25 points. Hahn added 19, while Toby Liebergesell finished with 12.
While Aragon may have enjoyed the advantage from the perimeter, Half Moon Bay dominated the boards. The Cougars out-rebounded the Dons 39-12.
Half Moon Bay opened the game with an 8-0 run — three layups and a putback — before Hahn slashed to the bucket for a layup to give Aragon its first points of the game.
The Cougars responded with a 9-0 run and were up 17-2 with less than half the first quarter played.
Manu hit a pair of free throws to briefly slow the Cougars, but they finished the quarter with an 8-3 run to lead 25-7 after the opening quarter.
In the second period, the Dons finally found their legs and turned the tables on the Cougars. After Nuno hit a pair of free throws to put Half Moon Bay up 31-18, Aragon scored the next eight points to close to 31-26 and trailed by seven, 33-26, at halftime.
Aragon got close in the second half, but the Cougars held them off.
“I think we have a little more talent than they do,” Forslund said. “That was the difference.”