After a conversation with his coach, Golden Valley High center Josh Sykes came out with a new game plan against Turlock on Friday night.
Cougars coach Keith Hunter didn’t want Sykes flying around, trying to block every shot and end up in foul trouble early. Golden Valley needed Sykes on the floor as much as possible to help guard Turlock star Kenny Fraser.
Sykes was up to the challenge, scoring 17 points, pulling down 16 rebounds and blocking five shots to help the Cougars defeat Turlock 65-54 at Cougar Arena in a battle of two teams that came in tied atop the Central California Conference.
“Coach Hunter and I had a discussion and he wanted me to come out and see how the refs were calling the game in the beginning,” Sykes said. “The first four minutes we wanted to see how the game was called. Once I got used to it I could pick it up from there.”
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Sykes and Fraser was a great individual battle to watch as they went toe-to-toe. Fraser definitely held his own with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
While Sykes was feeling his way through the game early, Fraser helped the Bulldogs (15-7 overall, 4-2 CCC) jump out to a 13-9 lead in the first quarter.
Most important for Sykes was staying on the floor. He was in foul trouble early and barely played in a loss to the Bulldogs Jan. 10. Sykes also picked up two fouls in the first three minutes against Merced on Wednesday.
“Josh doesn’t have to come out and dominate the first three minutes of the game,” Hunter said. “We talked about being patient. Maybe not try to block a shot in the first quarter. Play under control and then we get him out of the game so he can rest and catch his breath. Then we can put him back in and he can play.”
Sykes scored and drew a foul that sparked an 11-0 run by the Cougars to start the second quarter. Devon Powell, who had been slumping in recent games, also scored a basket during the run that gave Golden Valley a 21-13 lead with 5:20 left in the first half.
Powell also came off the bench in the first quarter and hit two big 3-pointers after Evan Stillahn (20 points) picked up two early fouls.
“Devon performed great tonight,” Hunter said. “He went through a little slump, but he didn’t get down on himself. He would come in early and shoot and he kept working. Hard work gets rewarded and he was rewarded tonight.”
Christian Carroll scored eight of his 15 points in the second quarter for Golden Valley (18-5, 5-1), including a steal and layup that extended the lead to 27-16 with 2:27 left in the first half.
The Bulldogs answered with a mini 8-1 run to cut the lead to 28-24 at intermission.
Golden Valley again started the third quarter with an 8-0 run and eventually extended the lead to 13 points twice late in the third quarter, but Turlock used a 7-2 run to close out the quarter to cut the lead to 47-39.
“They finished every quarter well,” Hunter said. “When you don’t finish quarters well you think it’s something you did, but often it’s what they did. Turlock is a good team.”
The Cougars usually attack teams from long range, but Turlock did a good job of getting out on Stillahn and Carroll. Neither sharpshooter hit a 3-pointer in the game. Golden Valley only made 2 of 13 shots from beyond the three-point line.
“We won a different way tonight,” Hunter said. “We only hit a couple threes. I thought they played good defense. We had to grind it out. I thought we did a good job of getting the ball inside. Stillahn got to the rim. He was able to be a basketball player and not force shots up.”
The players were allowed to play more physical than in the first matchup between the two teams that saw 53 fouls and 74 free throws.
Turlock quickly cut Golden Valley’s lead to 48-44 after Devan Baines scored a basket and hit a free throw with 5:56 left in the game.
Demsen McFaddin (14 points) cut the lead to 50-47 with a 3-pointer almost 2 minutes later.
“When we got within four points we missed some shots,” Turlock coach Doug Cornfoot said. “If we make some of those shots maybe we keep the momentum. Golden Valley was able to make some big shots to extend the lead. It’s two good teams. We were able to get them at our place and they won at their place.”
Stillahn came up with a big play late with a driving left-hand layup that gave the Cougars a 56-50 lead. After a stop on the defensive end, Ben Fletcher was fouled and he sank both free throws to extend the lead to 58-50.
Turlock was unable to get the lead under eight points the rest of the way as Golden Valley made 7 of 10 free throws in the final 2:26 to put the game away.