SANTA CLARA -- With his team trailing by 16 points in the first half Friday night, Archbishop Mitty coach Tim Kennedy gathered his players and told them to take a deep breath.
They did that and a whole lot more.
The Monarchs absorbed Serra's sizzling start, got back in the game before halftime and outlasted their gritty opponent down the stretch to successfully defend their Central Coast Section Open Division boys basketball title with a 68-60 victory before a boisterous crowd at Santa Clara University.
Mitty prevailed behind a dominating performance from 6-foot-8 sophomore Ben Kone (26 points, 16 rebounds) and the crafty ballhandling skills of senior point guard Matt McAndrews, who not only ran the offense but did it with showmanship.
"We were concerned, but we've been in that position before," McAndrews said after Mitty claimed its fifth section title in a row, the past two in the Open division. "The coaches always keep us focused. They were hitting all their shots, and we weren't playing Mitty basketball. We started getting defensive stops and started playing Mitty basketball."
McAndrews' night ended prematurely. He fouled out with 3:31 left and Mitty holding just a two-point lead. But fellow senior Connor Peterson, who ran the point in big games last season, moved over from the wing, and the Monarchs continued to roll.
"We're lucky we have two senior ballhandlers, that know how to finish games and know how to finish at the cup or know how to drop it off to guys," Kennedy said. "It makes me look like I know what I am doing."
It also nice to have Kone, who has helped fill the massive hole created by the departure of Aaron Gordon, now a star at the University of Arizona.
"He reminds me of Gordon," Serra coach Chuck Rapp said of Kone. "They surround him with shooters who hit open shots."
Serra had it rolling early, running its motion offense to perfection and converting its shots. After Kone scored the game's first two points, the Padres reeled off the next 13 with Danny Mahoney and Cory Cravalho leading the charge. Mahoney finished with 20 points.
The Padres' run continued into the second quarter as Serra eventually widened its advantage to 29-13.
"We threw the first punch," Rapp said. "Guys were sharing the ball, moving the ball, looked good in transition. But we just couldn't sustain it. Give Mitty credit. They made a few more plays than we did. They're bigger, stronger, faster."
After Serra went ahead by 16 in the second quarter, Mitty called a timeout as Kennedy calmed his players.
"I told them the basic coach speak, take a deep breath and we need to get three stops in a row," Kennedy said. "That's what we always talk about, preaching, three stops in a row. When we get stops, it leads to our offensive transition, and that is when we're at our best."
McAndrews driving through the lane and finding Kone, it did not take long for Mitty to roar back into the game.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by McAndrews capped a 13-0 run that pulled the West Catholic Athletic League season and tournament champions to within 29-26 with 2:54 left in the first half.
McAndrews' pass near the basket moments later resulted in a 3-point play for the big fellow that cut Serra's lead to 32-31.
Mahoney answered with a banked in 3-pointer to push the lead back to four. But Mitty's sharpshooter, JP Rindfleisch, answered with a 3 just before intermission to bring the Monarchs to within 35-34.
Kone, a transfer from Salesian, said he's gotten a "million times" better since the start of the season.
"Matt got me fired up in the locker room, the coaching staff did a great job of helping me out in the locker room," Kone said. "It's all mental."