by Cerwin D. Haynes
(photos by @MikeNike__13)
"Three more," yelled Joseph Hampton.
As East Los Angeles College (29-1, 8-0) wrapped up their thrilling 68-65 comeback victory over Allan Hancock College (23-7, 9-3), the fiery forward reminded everyone how many more games ELAC needs to win to be crowned State champions. They'll head to West Hills College Lemoore next Friday to begin the final leg of their trek to the CCCAA crown.
Freshman forward Kealen Allen lead all players in points (20) and rebounds (13), but it was the play of starting shooting guard Deshaun Highler that shifted the momentum to the Huskies' favor, particularly in the second half. He scored 12 of his 16 points in the 2nd period, and his defense set the tone for the team's reinvigorated effort - he had three of his four steals in the second half and several other deflections that helped turn Hancock over 10 times in that period.
It was a tale of two halves in this nail-biter: In an interview during the week, ELAC head coach John Mosley voiced concerns about Allan Hancock's aggressiveness. True to form, the Bulldogs attacked from the opening jump with Kyle Harding - corralling the opening tip - driving immediately to the basket to convert a layup. With the score notted at six, the Huskies would go on a 8-1 run capped by a Jordan Polynice pull-up jumper. With the score 14-7, it seemed East had weathered Hancock's early push and was setting up to take firm control of the game early. But the Bulldogs would hear none of that: they proceeded to jam up ELAC's offense by ramping up their defense, taking away the Huskies ability to set up their big men inside, and causing turnovers. The Huskies lead would vanish; Allan Hancock would take a 17-16 lead on a Bryce Craver layup with 10:09 to go in the half, and ELAC would only score 10 more points for the half as Hancock eluded Husky shot-blockers with crafty layup attempts and even got the three-ball going. Noted marksman Mike Mensah came off the bench to nail two from downtown, the second make giving the Bulldogs a 33-25 lead with 3:10 to go. A Malik Muhammed free throw was the only other point scored the rest of the way, as ELAC headed to the locker room at half down 33-26.
Thankfully for these Huskies, they've been a superior second-half team this season.
Allen found space early in the second half and got to doing what he's done best this season: get inside G's. But Hancock center Mayowa Akinsanya was similarly up to the task of not letting his team's momentum slip away - two layups and a blocked shot countered Allen's work. The teams traded baskets, with another Mike Mensah three-point make giving the Bulldogs a 42-35 lead with 15:23 left... and that's when the Huskies began to truly grind back.
In the following two and a half minutes of play, ELAC would steal the ball five times and create fast-break opportunities for layups, dunks, and getting fouled to shoot free throws. A 42-35 deficit turned into a 46-44 lead, and the home crowd began to rock the gym. The Huskies would go on to lead by as many as seven with 7:37 left and then again with 3:15 left, but Hancock - indeed showing the fight of a Bulldog - would not go away. Kyle Harding nailed a tough three-pointer to bring Hancock within four with 2:16 to go. After a Muhammed trip to the free throw line saw him hit one of two, Akinsanya made his presence felt again with a tip-in to cut the East lead to three, 66-63, with 1:19 to go. A Dezmond Washington turnover would give Allan Hancock the chance to tie the game, but the Bulldogs missed on a contested three-ball attempt. Muhammed would wrestle the rebound away from pesky Bulldog defenders and draw a foul, but the 70.7% free-throw shooter would miss both attempts at the charity stripe. Hancock would have another crack at tying the game on a three, but Kyle Harding misfired on his attempt, Allen would rebound the miss and get immediately fouled. He only made one of two free throws, but the one make pushed the lead to four (two possessions) with seven seconds left.
Off the Hancock inbound pass after a timeout, Akinsanya would dart into the paint, receive the pass from Grant Johnson, and convert the open layup to trim ELAC's lead back to two with five ticks left. Zeigler would take the inbound pass and be immediately fouled. He missed the first free throw, and you could feel the collective gasp from the home crowd as the began to wonder if the Huskies would leave the door open for a last-second Hancock comeback and win. Zeigler made the second freebie for a three-point lead, leaving the Bulldogs at least four seconds to tie the game on a shot behind the arc. Hancock would inbound the ball and advance past halfcourt with one second left, but Johnson's desperation heave from well-behind the arc sailed wide right of the rim, and the Huskies would have their hard-fought victory.
- In the second half, point guard Levelle Zeigler and reserve guard Kristopher Smith followed Deshaun Highler's lead defensively, netting three steals apiece> Zeigler, Smith and Highler would have nine of ELAC's 10 second-half steals.
- While the Huskies only shot a bit better than 51% from the free throw line (18-35), they attempted and made more free throws than Allan Hancock (9-17). ELAC did miss some crucial free throws down the stretch that could've helped them keep the game a bit more out of reach of the Bulldogs.
- ELAC missed on all 12 of their three-point attempts, but still managed to shoot over 47% for the game thanks to shooting over 58.3% in the second half. Hancock converted better than 46% of their shots for the game.
- The Bulldogs shot 4-11 from downtown in the first half but only 2-10 for the second half as the Huskies clamped down on Kyle Harding and Mike Mensah on the perimeter.
- Harding lead the Bulldogs in scoring with 17 points, adding four rebounds, four steals and three blocks to his totals.
- The Huskies head to West Hills College in Lemoore as one of the final eight teams left in the state to compete for the CCCAA Championship. The other seven (who all won tonight to advance) are Riverside, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Sequoias, Fresno City, Santiago Canyon and fellow LACCD school LA Valley. State Quarterfinals will be played on Friday, March 13 - matchups TBA.