As the competition gets tougher in tournaments such the Tarkanian Classic and the pressure grows to maintain a long winning streak, there is bound to be gut check moments for the team on the winning roll. In this case, it was Chino Hills (Calif.) and the gut check moment came with Roosevelt (Eastvale, Calif.) leading the Huskies 50-37 early in the second half of a championship semifinal contest.
That’s when La’Melo Ball, Chino Hill’s superbly gifted sophomore point guard, took over, and led a Chino Hills 76-68 comeback victory. He hit some contested jumpers and controlled the action with timely passes, by keeping the dribble alive and setting up teammates or finishing around the rim himself. Two spectacular lay-ups by Ball, a 6-foot-1 15-year old, cut the Chino Hills (10-0) deficit to four points (50-46) and the Huskies eventually tied the game at 52-52 on a 3-pointer by Li’Angelo Ball after some nifty Melo Ball ball-handling.
The main beneficiary of Melo’s showmanship down the stretch was LMU-bound Eli Scott, who continues to come up big in this tournament when the unbeaten Huskies need him the most. Scott gave the Huskies a 54-52 lead on a offensive rebound putback . The teams battled the rest of the way and the difference was the free throw shooting of Scott. He made eight in the row down the stretch, including two front ends of one-and-one situations. Scott made 10-of-10 free throws in the second half, 11-of-12 for the game, and finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds. He had 18 points in the second half alone, while Roosevelt had 23 as a team.
Melo Ball finished with 17 points and four assists while his older brother Gelo Ball netted 23 points.
After nailing nine 3-pointers as a team in the first half when it built a 45-33 lead, Roosevelt (5-2) was outscored, 43-23, after intermission. It did hit some timely 3-pointers throughout, but just couldn’t convert in the final minute from long range when it trailed 71-68 with 40 seconds remaining. Scott’s free throws then sealed Chino Hills’ 45th consecutive win.
Jemarl Baker, Roosevelt’s long-range sharp-shooter headed to CAL, made seven of 13 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 27 points. He did not attempt a free throw. Cal-St. Fullerton-bound Matt Mitchell added 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
“It’s just about being resilient” Scott said about performing in gut check time with Chino Hills on the ropes. “We ain’t come this far to go home with one loss.”
Chino Hills, ranked No. 10 in the latest FAB 50 National Rankings, has a championship date (December 20, 6:20 pm PT) with FAB 50 No. 18 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), who outlasted host Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) 86-79, in overtime in the other championship semifinal to improve to 11-0 on the season.
Just as Chino Hills trailed 50-37, Bishop Gorman led 51-37. Mater Dei slowly chipped away until Spencer Freedman sparked the Monarchs to a 11-1 run after it trailed 69-60 with 4:45 seconds remaining in regulation. Mater Dei took a 71-70 lead on a 3-pointer by Matthew Weyand less than three minutes later. The game was in the balance and Bishop Gorman (5-3) had a chance to win at the regulation buzzer, but a 3-pointer by Jamal Bey was off-target.
It was all Mater Dei in the overtime period, as Freedman thread the needle to junior wing Harrison Butler for a lay-up and 80-78 lead and the Monarchs never looked back. Freedman had 17 points in the second half, and finished with 24 points, three assists and only one turnover. Senior forward Justice Sueing also played well with 25 points and 12 rebounds.
BYU-bound Christian Popoola Jr. led the Gaels with 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Mater Dei will look to have a good outing in a championship game of unbeatens, as it attempts to find a way to end the Chino Hills streak. Chino Hills has found a way to win even when it doesn’t look its best, while Mater Dei has been the more consistent team so far this season. Mater Dei also has the memory of last year’s CIF Southern Section Open Division semifinal loss to the Huskies it would like to erase. Chino Hills defeated the Monarchs 102-54 en route to its mythical FAB 50 national title.
You can bet the Tarkanian Championship game will be much closer.