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Koak leads Athletics past Houston

Lyle-Pacelli’s Buay Koak is not your typical freshman basketball player.

Koak didn’t just make athletic plays, he made smart plays as the the No. 6 seeded Athletics beat No. 11 Houston 63-56 in a Section 1A Tournament opener in Pacelli Thursday.

Koak, who finished with 24 points and nine rebounds, hit a baseline three to put L-P up 53-41 and he converted a lay-up to make it 59-50 L-P, but he really sealed the game when he pulled down an offensive rebound with L-P leading 59-53 with 25 seconds left. Koak didn’t panic and force up a shot, but instead he found Zach Bollingberg, who knocked down two free throws to ice the game.

“It’s just the tip of the iceberg. He’s just a great player, and he’s a coach’s dream,” L-P head coach Scott Koenigs said of Koak. “His eyes are always on you when you’re speaking and he’s taking everything in. He’s a great kid, a great student and it’s going to be fun working with him for awhile.”

The Hurricanes (14-13 overall) ran out to a 9-0 lead to start the game, but Bollingberg hit a pair of threes to ignite L-P on a 14-3 run that saw them grab a 14-12 lead.

Bollingberg finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

“When we got down, it was kind of scary. We knew we just had to step it up on defense and our shots would start falling,” Bollingberg said. “Buay started us out in the first half and then we started shooting lights out and we started playing better defense.”

Koak scored 15 of his 24 in the first half and he brought the crowd to its feet when he dunked in an offensive rebound to put L-P up 18-16. He added back-to-back threes extend the lead 26-20.

“I was thinking about it too much at first. I had to calm down and believe in God. We had to trust in each other and play the game,” Koak said. “When we slow it down, that’s when we play our best.”

Koak averaged seven points per game last season for the Athletics, but he’s been putting up over 20 per night this season. His game has grown by huge strides due to the time he’s spent playing with the Austin boys basketball players in the YMCA over the summer and on weekends.

“They motivate me,” Koak said of the Packers. “I watch their games and see how they bring energy and I try to bring that energy here. They’re basically my brothers in the summer. I see them every day, we play every day and they inspire me to be better.”

L-P had to play the game without starting point guard Cole Walter, who continues to be sidelined with an injury.

“Cole is without question our leader and our quarterback on the floor,” Koenigs said. “It’s hard to replace an all-conference point guard at a small schedule. We just don’t have the depth.”

L-P will now take on No. 3 seeded Randolph in the Section 1A  quarterfinals in Mayo Civic Center at 7:30 p.m. on March 4.

The Athletics (19-7 overall) beat Randolph 81-75 on Jan. 7.

L-P’s juniors have experience playing at the Civic Center from two years ago when L-P made a deep playoff run to the Section 1A semifinals.

“We look forward to it and the kids will enjoy it,” Koenigs said.

Houston 23  33  —  56

Lyle-Pacelli 33  30  —  63

LP scoring: Buay Koak, 24; Zach Bollingberg, 21; Jed Nelson, 8; Mach Diang, 6; Sam Nelsen, 2; Tyson Anderson, 2; free throws: 57 percent (4-for-7); rebounds: 40 (Koak, 9); turnovers: 13