By Pat Turner
Close encounters are part of the routine in District 28-6A boys’ basketball.
Just ask Stevens’ Falcons.
During their four district games, the first three were decided by a point. Stevens won two of the contests, including this past week’s 67-66 thriller over Clark where Khouri Perkins hit a half-court 3-point buzzer shot.
Falcons coach Michael Raynes knows more tight games are most likely coming, so pulling out victories in the early going is definitely a boost for his Falcons (11-5, 3-1), who sit in a third-place tie with O’Connor (11-6, 3-1) behind leaders Warren (14-2, 4-0) and Brennan (12-5, 4-0).
“We’re playing tough opponents,” Raynes said. “We have been on both sides of these last-second affairs. We’re happy to win two. This last one was hard. Clark played extremely well. We were able to persevere.”
The Cougars (2-15, 0-4) have struggled this season with inexperience, but things were clicking with Luke Gibson and Cooper Vanlandingham, who both poured in 20 points, leading a 36-30 halftime run.
Clinging to a 49-48 lead going into the fourth period, Clark increased its advantage to 60-54 with 4:10 remaining following a three from Vanlandingham and a three-point play by Jordan Mason.
Clark remained in front in the final minute, before the Falcons staged their comeback. Following a Cougar turnover, Stevens pushed downcourt and got the game-tying bucket underneath from Carlton Linguard, who knocked in eight of his 16 points down the stretch while also coming up with four rebounds.
Knotted at 64-all with time running out, the Cougars worked the ball around the court before Gibson grabbed a pass from Truett Heintzelman and took the ball to the hoop for a 66-64 lead with 3.0 seconds remaining.
With no timeouts remaining, Stevens needed a miracle. The Falcons found it from Perkins who dribbled near the center line and lofted a shot that hit nothing but net.
“Whenever I got the ball, I had people on me,” Perkins said. “I had to go behind my back (with the ball) to get away from them. When I shot it, the ball felt good leaving my hands.’
No doubt it was much-needed.
“These games are like in this district,” Perkins said. “It’s giving us confidence knowing we can close out games.”
Stevens’ situation was more comfortable during an 83-65 win over Jay. The Mustangs (9-8, 1-3) created problems in the first period by canning four 3-pointers, two from John Mann.
Thanks to two threes from Angelo Samudo and another from Linguard, the Falcons claimed a 19-14 advantage.
Stevens picked up the tempo the final three periods. Linguard (21 points, seven rebounds) continued to pour in points from the inside and outside, while also taking charge of the boards with Perkins and Samudo.
O’Connor also came through in the clutch this past week.
After dropping an 84-74 decision to Brandeis (10-6, 2-2), O’Connor got back on track with a 52-45 win over Marshall (1-3, 8-9).
O’Connor scratched out a 27-25 halftime lead on a pair of tip-ins from Andy Deering, along with a 3-pointer and three-point play from Logan Lopez.
However, Marshall got charged up in the third period and gained the upper hand behind the guidance of Sayvon Fyre, who knocked in nine of his 19 points in the frame for a 42-37 lead.
The Panthers turned the tables in the fourth period with a swarming defense that limited Marshall to three points.
Deering and Adam Benhayoune continued to come up with rebounds, but a helping hand came from Brendan Wenzel, who poured in four points, dished assists while attacking the boards.
After Grant Rustan brought the Panthers within 42-39 on a layup off a Marshall turnover, Lopez tied things up with a three. Wenzel then planted in the go-ahead bucket and dished a pass to Deering for a layup, before nailing a jumper.
Marshall continued to struggle offensively, and Brandon Jones gave the Panthers more security by popping in four free throws.
“We knew we had to bring a lot of energy,” said Wenzel, who finished with 17 points following a 42-point output against Brandeis. “We had to communicate. I was trying to do as much as I could whether it was scoring or rebounding.”
Although the Panthers weren’t in a must-win situation, the victory was sorely needed.
“This was a big win,” O’Connor coach Brett Jewasko said. “In this district you have to come out and grind every time. That’s what I was proud of in this game. Our kids found ways to win.
“We played good defense. We pressed full-court for a little bit. The guys brought energy in that. I think it carried over to our half-court defense. Our rebounding was great. We took care of the ball and hit free throws.”
Holmes (4-12, 2-2) had a turnaround week by squeezing out a 57-52 victory over Taft (7-10, 0-4) and a 73-72 win over Brandeis (10-6, 2-2).
Holmes was in a 33-25 hole in the first half against Taft as the Raiders relied on the combination of Romelius Moore (15 points) and Jon-Marc Flores-Diaz (14 points).
The Huskies began whittling away the deficit in the third period and the trio of Robert Gil (17 points), DQ Haney (15 points) and Elijah Moreno (12 points) sparked an 18-8 run in the fourth quarter for the victory.
Holmes started much quicker against Brandeis. Gil (27 points) and Haney (21 points) were instrumental in helping the Huskies soar to a 41-33 halftime lead. The Huskies held advantage in the third period (55-46), but the fourth quarter got a little uneasy.
Brandeis started hitting from all areas, with much of the heroics coming from Tanner Brown (18 points) and Kyle Schaefer (16 points). Despite the Broncos’ rally, Holmes held on for the victory.
Brandeis, however, had things clicking more consistently against O’Connor with a potent outside attack highlighted by Schaefer (23 points) and Brown (21 points).
Co-leaders Brennan and Warren also had tests but passed with flying colors.
The Bears held off an 18-point performance from Frye to register a 66-59 win over Marshall.
Jacari Sanders led Brennan with 21 points, Jaden Moore put in 17 points and Isaiah Ayekumi contributed with 10.
Brennan was stronger against Clark in cruising to a 90-61 win.
The Bears had concerns about the Cougars’ shooting but got the edge with aggressive defense.
Jacari Sanders was a major force, scoring 22 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Moore put in 22 points and Kyle Castille made his presence felt with 20 points and seven rebounds.
Brennan began showing its strength late in the first quarter.
Holding a 15-14 lead, Sanders helped the Bears finish strong with a 3-pointer and jumper to increase the margin to 20-15.
Clark continued to stay close with buckets by Gibson, but Brennan sprang to an 18-9 run that included goals by Shayden Campbell, who finished with 15 points, Castille and Sanders, along with a 3-point buzzer beater by Moore.
The Bears were even more dominant in the second half as Castille, Sanders and Moore’s rebounding limited Clark to one shot on a several occasions.
“I wanted to do a better job of rebounding,” Castille said. “I don’t think I did that well in the last game. I wanted to do more. Everyone was contributing and that’s what you need.”
Brennan coach Koty Cowgill liked the all-around effort from this past week. After all, several players are helping the Bears establish a well-rounded appearance.
Another challenge comes this week as Brennan faces Stevens and O’Connor.
“We have a bunch of guys stepping up,” Cowgill said. “We had another good week. Our rebounding was good. We did a good job of protecting the rim. We need to keep it up. This next week is going to be really big.”
Warren looked just as sharp in wins over Jay (63-50) and Taft (68-61).
Warren was down 14-13 to Jay after the first period but started finding the basket more consistently in the second quarter and shot to a 27-22 lead.
Warren then poured on the offense in the second half with scoring balance from Isaac Gamboa (21 points), Jayden Campos (14 points), Marcus Varela (11 points) and Kino Rodriguez-Thompson (10 points).
Warren sprang out to a 55-38 lead over Taft with more scoring heroics from Campos (19 points), Varela (18 points) and Rodriguez-Thompson (13 points).
Using the shooting of Nathaniel Marcotta, who finished with 22 points, and Moore (19 points), Taft (7-10,0-4) made a gallant run in the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to seven points.
Warren had enough scoring pop to seal the victory.
Harlan leaped into District 28-5A with wins over Somerset (62-44) and Floresville (55-44).
The Hawks (7-8, 2-0) had their toughest bout against Floresville, falling behind 23-22 at halftime.
Harlan broke through in the third period, holding Floresville to eight points while building a 37-31 lead. That proved to be the lift the Hawks needed to break away to victory.