LIVINGSTON — There has been no varsity basketball team in the area easier to scout the last two years than Central Catholic High.
To shut down the Raiders, all you had to do was pack in the defense to keep big men Dusty Killian and Dan Hulst under control, then dare the guards to beat you — a task easier said than done.
But on Tuesday night, the Raiders' guards accepted that challenge and threw it right back at Livingston.
Killian and Hurst got their points, but so did the Raiders' guards, who hit multiple big shots in the second half of Central's 85-78 victory in the season's first big Western Athletic Conference showdown.
"This puts us in the driver's seat, at least until we play them again at our place," said Central coach Mike Wilson. "The game we played at Patterson the other night was just like this, and every team will be tough."
But Central Catholic (12-3 overall, 3-0 WAC,) while expected to be a contender in the race, now moves to the front, simply because they have discovered balance.
Killian had 22 points and 15 rebounds, and Hurst added 16 points and 18 rebounds, but the role players made the difference.
Wing Liam Smith scored 11, guards Ky Wilson and Nick Fenn added nine apiece, and guard Anthony Alamo added seven more, as Central's bench scored 24 points.
"Our game plan was to look for Livingston to sink in on us and we knew our guards would have to hit some shots, and then the bench came through big, too," Killian said. "They're good and we knew our guards were going to have to step up, and they did."
The WAC plays a triple round-robin, so this was only the first of three meetings between the teams. However, this game alone seemed like four separate games.
The first game was dominated by Livingston (11-3, 2-1) and its press. Gurpreet Sangha hit his first three 3-point attempts en route to a game-high 31 points, and the Raiders had trouble getting the ball across midcourt as the Wolves rolled to a 37-27 halftime lead.
The domination was greater than the 10-point margin, since Livingston converted only eight-of-17 free throws in the second quarter and finished the game 26-of-44 from the line.
"Our kids were quick, but you have to make those free throws," said Wolves' coach Angelo Naldo. "We're going at 90 MPH and then the free throw comes and you go to zero. You have to make that adjustment."
Central opened the second half finding success and easy baskets against the press, simply by hitting the middle of the pressure, then using its height advantage to throw over it.
That, coupled with Livingston taking quick shots in its halfcourt, allowed the Raiders to outscored the Wolves 24-5 over an eight-minute stretch of the second half, taking a 58-49 lead into the final seven minutes.
But the Livingston press again found its energy, with guard Chris Modi (21 points) forcing turnovers to fuel the Wolves' rally. Livingston retook the lead at 71-69 when Sangha fed Modi for a layup with 45 seconds left, but Central answered when Hulst passed to an open Killian for the tying score with 21 seconds remaining.
Central then owned the overtime, opening on a 12-2 run against a tiring pack of Wolves with a series of deep passes leading to easy layups. At the end, the team left standing was the team still running.
"We really wanted to slow them down," Wilson said. "I don't think we've scored 80 points in a game in five years. It's not our style but tonight some shots were dropping."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.