The Staples boys basketball team has found its groove.

After starting the season at 2-4, Staples won its third straight game Tuesday with a 73-50 victory at a very athletic Harding team.

"We really turned up our defense in the second half and took care of the basketball," Wreckers coach Colin Devine said. "It was a team victory, and everyone contributed."

Staples raised its record to 5-4, and although the margin was 23 points, the game was closer than the final score would indicate. Harding (1-8) had a rebounding advantage, especially in the first half, and stayed with the Wreckers for almost three quarters before the visitors began to pull away.

The Presidents are a program in transition under new coach Charles Clemons, who took over for longtime coach Charles Bentley, who retired this summer. Harding senior Steven Walker (seven points) opened the game with two steals, one that produced a layup, and the Presidents took a 5-0 lead after junior Davon McAllister swished a 3-pointer.

Although Harding was scrappy defensively and forced 21 turnovers, Staples was at least equally tenacious and forced 23 President, turnovers. Morever, the Wreckers were cohesive on both sides of the court and answered with seven straight points, mostly through junior James Frusciante's playmaking capabilities and he stopped one fast break by drawing a charge.

"We were back on defense and I was taught to take the charge," Frusciante said.

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Frusciante (15 points, two rebounds, 10 assists, five steals, two forced turnovers, one charge drawn) set up classmate Pete Rankowitz for three layups in the first quarter alone. The third Rankowitz layup gave Staples the lead for good, 9-8 with 3:15 remaining in the quarter.

"It comes from playing with Pete when we were younger and translates into now and having a feel for the game," Frusciante said.

Rankowitz (22 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals, four forced turnovers) was explosive on offense and was especially effective with backdoor layups.

"They pressed us a lot and the backdoor was easy," Rankowitz said. "James fed me and I was able to finish. We've been pretty good friends since elementary school, always played on the same sports teams and have great chemistry."

Junior Ross Whelan (eight points, two rebounds, two assists, four steals) was a sparkplug off the bench on both ends of the court for the Wreckers. Whelan robbed Harding's guards blind, set up senior captain Mike Argosh's layup and hit two layups in the first half.

"We needed the win and needed to step up the intensity and set the tone," Whelan said. "The team played well."

Senior Patrick Kohlmann (seven points, one rebound, one assist, one steal, one blocked shot, one charge drawn, four forced turnovers) also boosted the defense off the bench. Kohlmann forced a turnover that led to Argosh's layup off a steal at midcourt to make it 21-12 with 1:38 left.

Frusciante's 3-point play off a putback made it 24-14 and the quarter ended with Staples leading, 24-16. Harding cut the lead to one, the last time at 30-29 on Duke Francois' layup. However, the Wreckers answered with a 7-0 with Frusciante capping the surge with a steal that drew the foul on a coast-to-coast layup attempt. His two free throws made it 37-29 and the half ended, 37-31.

Frusciante looked like the cornerback he is on the football team with the way he anticipated the pass.

"They threw crosscourt passes, I sat back, waited for it and made the plays," Frusciante said.

After Staples extended the lead to 10, 41-31, the Presidents used their quickness to mount a comeback attempt. Freshman Ty Killings (seven points) had a 3-point play and Walker and senior Tyshaun Mullings had layups off of steals, which led to Devine calling a timeout.

Whelan's energy helped turn the tide and after grabbing a defensive rebound, he set up Kohlmann's layup with an outlet pass.

"In practice, we work on outlet passes," Whelan said. "I was able to get the rebound and get the ball."

Sophomore backup center Nick Ward (two rebounds, one assist) got two big rebounds and after grabbing one of Harding's misses, Ward's outlet pass set up Kohlmann's 3-pointer and it 48-40.

Argosh (12 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals, one blocked shot, two forced turnovers) forced a turnover and set up Frusciante's layup to make it 52-40 after three quarters, and Kohlmann's layup to make it 54-40 to start the fourth quarter.

"We kind of had some defensive lapses, but we came together and forced some turnovers, which was a key to victory," Argosh said.

The Wreckers put the Presidents away in the fourth quarter. Senior Vasili Tziolis (seven points, six rebounds, two forced turnovers) hit big shots and helped on the glass. Sophomore Darryle Wiggins (two steals, one forced turnover) contributed on defense.

Senior Mike Garrity (one assist, one forced turnover) and junior Alex Addessi (two points, one rebound) made the most of their minutes.

"It was a great win for us, we want to build on it and we'll continue to work hard in practice," Devine said.

Argosh said, "We played good, team basketball. We have a lot of young guys who need a taste of how to win. Once we start to win, it's contagious."