FAB 50 No. 16 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) outlasts defending FAB 50 national champion and current No. 13 Chino Hills (Calif.) 83-80 in overtime to advance to the CIFSS Open Division title game in front of over 10,000 fans at the Galen Center in Los Angeles. Mater Dei avenged an earlier loss to the Huskies and became the first SoCal team to defeat the Huskies since it did it during the 2015 post-season.
The arrival of 7-foot junior Bol Bol made the highly-anticipated CIFSS Open Division playoffs even more intriguing than they already expected to be with four of the nation's best teams potentially meeting in the semifinals. The matchups came to fruition Friday evening before a packed house at the Galen Center. With Bol Bol in the lineup for No. 3 seed Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), his impact was going to be a big factor in a rematch with No. 2 seed Chino Hills (Calif.).
The two teams met earlier in the season in the title game of the 2016 Tarkanian Classic, with Chino Hills coming away with a 84-73 victory. Bol was a factor but was he the difference-maker? In the final analysis he had a big impact on the game and helped the Monarchs hand Chino Hills its first loss to a SoCal team in two seasons with a 83-80 overtime win. Ironically, Mater Dei was the last local team who beat the Huskies in the 2014-2015 CIFSS Open Division quarterfinals.
Bol altered plenty of Chino Hills shots around the rim and finished some key baskets on the other end to help his team advance to next Saturday's CIFSS Open Division title versus FAB 50 No. 15 Bishop Montgomery (Torrance, Calif.). The Knights upset top seed and FAB 50 No. 2 Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.).
Chino Hills wasn't hitting a high percentage of shots and was a bit weary down the stretch, as it didn't make a substitution during regulation. After all that, however, Chino Hills was still in position to win the game in regulation after back-to-back 3-pointers by senior Li'Angelo Ball and junior Ofure Ujadughele gave Chino Hills (29-2) a 72-66 lead with 4:32 remaining in regulation.
Chino Hills did not score again in regulation. The Huskies did have a chance to win the game in regulation, but with 26 seconds remaining when the play began, sophomore point guard La'Melo Ball dribbled without making a move to the basket until there were six or seven seconds remaining and he ended up taking a 35-foot plus heave with four seconds to go that didn't come close.
Mater Dei (31-1) quickly took control in overtime, scoring the first six points to take a 78-72 lead, including two free throws and a lay-up by junior forward Harrison Butler. Chino Hills had one last run in them, taking a 79-78 lead on a jumper by sophomore forward Onyeka Okongwu with 1:54 remaining in overtime. Chino Hills, which other loss this season came against FAB 50 No. 12 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), has a chance to tie the game with 33 seconds remaining, but Okongwu made only one of two free throws. Trailing 81-80 with 30 seconds remaining and 29 showing on the shot clock, Chino Hills didn't foul until nine seconds remained and the Huskies fouled Mater Dei's best free throw shooter -- junior Spencer Freedman. He nailed both to account for the final scoring, as Gelo Ball's last-ditch 3-point shot attempt with two seconds remaining bounced over the basket and out of bounds.
With the win, Mater Dei avenged its only loss of the season so far, as Bol finished with 14 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots. Freedman finished with 17 points and nine assists, while Justice Sueing, bound for CAL, scored a team-high 25 points, including 7-of-11 free throws.
The Ball brothers combined for 54 points, with Melo Ball scoring a game-high 28 points. The brother duo did hit some clutch shots and Melo Ball got the crowd going with his ball-handling antics, but they shot a combined 13-of-46 from 3-point range. Melo Ball finished 8-of-33 from the field and did not make a 2-point goal. Chino Hills was able to stay in the game with its rebounding and timely shots. Despite the presence of Bol, Chino Hills out-rebounded the Monarchs 52-49, with LMU-bond Eli Scott grabbing 21 points, but scoring only four points.
Chino Hills coach Stephan Gilling wasn't happy with his team's shot selection, but it will have a chance to atone for its woes and could potentially meet Mater Dei for a third time in the regional playoffs, which begin the week after next Saturday's CIFSS section title game. The four CIFSS Open Division semifinalist should be the top four seeds in the SoCal Open Regional playoffs and Chino Hills is likely to be the No. 4 seed.
Mater Dei hopes to grab the top seed by defeating Bishop Montgomery next weekend. Either way, the Monarchs have a big difference-maker who could end up being the difference in winning or losing in the open division playoffs.