Auburn’s balancing act on the basketball court continues to produce a different leading role player at showtime.
On Friday, it was Amar Rivers’ turn to shine.
The 6-foot-5 junior guard scored 17 points – 12 of which came in the third quarter – as Auburn pulled away from Kentwood 50-40 at Bob Jones Gymnasium to secure the North Puget Sound League’s top seed to this week’s West Central/Southwest District playoffs.
Behind an equal-opportunity offense and suffocating defense, the Trojans take a 12-game winning streak into the playoffs.
Auburn, the NPSL Olympic Division champion at 20-3, hosts a first-round district playoff Wednesday against either Kennedy Catholic or Emerald Ridge. Tipoff is 7 p.m. Kentwood, the NPSL Casade Division champion at 13-8, also will open the district playoffs at home Wednesday against either Todd Beamer or South Kitsap. Tipoff is 7 p.m.
Rivers weaved his way through the Conquerors’ zone defense to sink jumpers, runners and when put on the line, key free throws.
“That’s what makes us special,” Auburn coach Ryan Hansen said. “We have so many guys who can score. On any given night, someone will step up, and tonight it was Amar.”
Rivers’ eyes light up when teams throw a zone. He welcomes the challenge and thrives in the high-post area, his sweet spot to launch his shot.
“It was fun. I love playing against that defense,” he said. “That’s my favorite shot, so if they’re going to leave me open, I’m going to hit it.”
Auburn had a supporting cast. Sophomore Maleek Arington had 14 points and Dae’Kwon Watson, another sophomore, finished with 10.
Cameron Williams scored 12 points and Alphonse Oywak had 11 to lead the Conquerors.
Kentwood, playing without two of its top scorers because of injuries, made it difficult early, keeping Auburn in check throughout a rugged and ragged first half that ended 18-18.
The game remained tight until late in the third quarter.
Trailing 32-31, Auburn went ahead for good when Rivers drew a foul and a Kentwood player was whistled for a technical foul with 33.6 seconds remaining in the period. Rivers calmly sank all four free throws.
The technical foul and subsequent free throws proved to be a turning point in the game, triggering a 14-0 Auburn run that stretched well into the fourth quarter.
“We just unraveled,” said Kentwood coach Blake Solomon. “We got the foul and the technical. … We go from up one to down five, and our psyche was out a little bit. And then we couldn’t score and that compounded it … a snowball effect. You can’t give away points in playoffs.”
An Arington put-back bucket beat the buzzer, extending the Trojans’ lead to 37-32.
In the fourth quarter, Kentwood went cold as Auburn made eight consecutive stops to build a 13-point lead midway in the period.
The Conquerors scored their first points in the period on Oywak’s three-point play with 2:37 left in the game.
Hansen likes his young bunch, a cast of players who play well beyond their years.
“We have a group of guys who can all put it on the floor, who can all shoot it,” Hansen said. “And they’re unselfish. They’re tough to guard. They all make that extra pass. They can get into seams and draw defenders.”
A group that hopes to have one of its primary players back for the district playoffs. Trevon Blassingame, a 6-5 sophomore, is on the mend, nursing a knee injury, and may be ready to play this week, Hansen said.
“It’ll be a boost for sure because he’s a talented player,” Hansen said of the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. “He’s our vocal leader … we definitely missed having him out there.”
Auburn is poised for a deep run at district.
“Time will tell,” Hansen said. “It’s the way we defend, they way we share (the ball) and shoot it. I would throw us into the mix. … We will make a run at it.
“These kids are not going to shy away from the challenge.”