Tuesday evening’s meeting of Moore League unbeatens lived up to its billing in a thrilling overtime contest between Long Beach Poly and Lakewood, who entered the game tied atop the league standings. Despite a valiant effort from the challenging Lancers, the Jackrabbits got some clutch free throws from Christian Watson down the stretch to pull off the win, 65-57.
“We’re playing a lot of games this week so it’s just about doing whatever we need to do to win,” said Poly coach Shelton Diggs. “We’re making up games and we don’t have a lot of time to get in the gym, we’re going to work some things out on the fly like tonight. Against a good team it’s going to be hard—but I feel like we made everything hard for them on defense.”
Watson started the game 3/12 from the free throw line, but was able to rally and come up huge for Poly down the stretch. With both teams in the double bonus to start the extra period, the game came down to free throws. Watson kept driving and drawing fouls, and went 8/8 from the line in the extra frame to lead Poly’s 11-3 effort in OT.
“I just have to stay locked in,” he said of his big turnaround. “I’ve shot a million free throws before, so it’s just about not getting too down when I’m missing. Coach told me to make sure I’m locked in and start like it’s 0-0 when overtime started.”
The Jackrabbits jumped out to a 19-8 lead after the first quarter after Watson found freshman Jovani Ruff for a buzzer-beating three-pointer, but Lakewood battled back. The Lancers won the second quarter 15-8 and took their first lead of the game late in the third quarter, going up by as much as 41-36 with two minutes left in the third.
The story of the game was who was getting the foul calls and when. Lakewood got 17 of their 57 points at the free-throw line, and got nine of their 18 points in the third at the charity stripe as part of a 12-2 run to take the lead. But the Lancers only got one point from free throws after the first quarter.
Both teams played the entire fourth quarter and overtime in the double bonus, and had multiple starters foul out of the game. For Lakewood, the turning point was Mason Pacheco fouling out with five seconds left in the third quarter. Pacheco had a game-high 18 points when he fouled out, and the Lancers struggled to replace his scoring.
Poly got 16 points from the free throw line in the fourth quarter and overtime, keyed in part by Watson’s aggressiveness.
“Driving and attacking is just kind of my game,” said Watson. “I knew they were in the double bonus so I was trying to get to the rim and make a play.”
“Chris is amazing at getting to the hole and getting in the key, contorting his body,” said Diggs. “It goes both ways—we’re an aggressive defense so when a game is being called tight we have to find ways to adjust while still playing aggressive. We had Gabe (Cummings) and Marcel (Hayes) foul out so we had to rely on our depth.”
Ultimately that depth won out for Poly, as Daniel Hardy came in and had eight big points as well as a huge block in overtime.
The Jackrabbits led 52-48 late in the game but Macarhy Morris (18 points) hit back-to-back baskets and then after Watson put Poly up, the Lancers got the game-tying basket from Bernard Dickerson. Lakewood had two shots to win it but missed both, sending it to OT.
In overtime it was all about Watson in the lane and at the free-throw line. Lakewood got three points early to take a brief 57-56 lead but Watson made eight free throws and Poly got more free throws from Darron “Buddha” Henry and Hardy to score 11 points in overtime, despite not making a field goal.
Watson’s 28 points included 15 at the line to lead all scorers; Ruff had 12 for Poly, and Hayes had nine. Watson said what he was proudest of was how the team hung together.
“We’re keeping it pushing as a team,” he said. “I felt like in years before we didn’t always stay together and I’m most proud of how we all stayed in it together tonight. Games like this are really big for us.”
Poly (8-4, 3-0) will host Wilson at 5 p.m. on Wednesday while Lakewood (12-4, 2-1) will host Millikan Wednesday night.
VIDEO: Long Beach Poly vs Lakewood Basketball
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