ANAHEIM – Canyon’s boys basketball team needs depth this year and has it.
The Comanches displayed that depth Tuesday in a 67-57 win over Villa Park in a Crestview League game at Canyon High.
Canyon was the No. 1-ranked team in the Orange County preseason Top 25. Comanches coach Nate Harrison created a challenging nonleague schedule, including putting the team in the super-elite division of Southern California’s toughest December tournament, The Classic at Damien.
Season-ending injuries to starting players Jaden and Joshua Goodall were damaging. Canyon went 1-3 in the Damien tournament, lost other games it likely would have won with an intact roster, and were No. 9 in this week’s Orange County Top 25.
In Tuesday’s win over No. 20 Villa Park senior guard Fox Haugen came off of the bench for the Comanches to score 12 points. Senior starting point guard Connor Leonard scored 12 points, six of those off of three of his four slick steals. Senior guard Jonathan Carey made three 3-pointers for his nine points and senior forward Tyler Howard scored nine points.
Canyon sophomore Brandon Benjamin had his usual high-production game. The 6-5 sophomore forward, who was the only freshman on last season’s All-Orange County first team, scored 19 points with seven rebounds. He was 8 of 10 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
Benjamin is averaging 22 points a game while getting double-teamed constantly.
— Steve Fryer (@SteveFryer) January 25, 2023
“It all starts with Brandon,” Harrison said. “Everyone’s keying on him so hard that it allows everyone else to be a lot better. And Connor Leonard on defense. … I keep saying I think he’s the best defender in Orange County.”
Canyon (20-5 overall, 2-1 in Crestview League) has three regular-season games remaining before the playoffs begin. The Comamches play at league-leading and county No. 7 Foothill on Friday and plays Yorba Linda and Villa Park in league games next week, the final week of the regular season.
Villa Park (16-8) is 1-2 in league. The Spartans play a league game at Yorba Linda on Friday before concluding the regular season next week with league home games against Foothill and Canyon.
Spartans 6-7 sophomore Dakari Harris scored 17 points with 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Sabeel Khan scored 13 points, including 10 in the third quarter. Khan in the second half made five shots in a row, including two 3s.
Villa Park was 20 of 39 on all shots for 51 percent. The Spartans were 8 of 19 on 3-pointers.
Canyon was 28 of 50 from the floor ( 56 percent) and was 3 of 17 on 3s.
Khan opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer that reduced Canyon’s lead to 53-47 after Canyon had taken a 44-30 lead midway through the third quarter.
After Khan’s field goal, the Comanches went on an 8-2 run to regain momentum.
Canyon overcame a rough start, falling behind quickly 5-1 in the first quarter.
“At first, I feel like we were a little bit nervous,” Benjamin said. “We had the confidence and the heart to win this game.”
Haugen made 5 of his 8 shots, all close to the basket, with quick, nifty moves on a couple of them. He was an All-North Hills League receiver during the football season with 72 receptions and 13 touchdown catches in 12 games.
“Credit to Fox Haugen who had an incredible game,” Harrison said. “He’s not only one of the better receivers in Orange County but he’s also a very good basketball player. We’re lucky to have a lot of good kids like him.”