By Miguel A. Melendez
ALHAMBRA — Nobody said it was impossible, but the improbable just didn’t seem likely, especially after first-half dominance by the visiting Roosevelt High School boys basketball team.
But then came the re-emergence of Alhambra, its stingy defense in the third quarter a staple of Moors coach Joe Petralia’s philosophy that defense wins games.
A second-half adjustment is all Alhambra needed to storm back from a 14-point deficit, highlighted by Nelson Chan’s 3-pointer plus the foul with 13.3 seconds left.
Chan sank the free throw to send the game into overtime, and Aeric Allen’s layup to start the extra period gave Alhambra a lead it would never relinquish en route to a 63-58 victory Wednesday night in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division I-A playoffs.
Alhambra (18-9) will play the West Valley-Rancho Cucamonga winner in Friday’s second round.
Javier Lomeli drove in the lane and converted a layup to give the Mustangs (16-11) a 52-48 lead with 38.8 seconds left. Lomeli was fouled in the act of shooting and was sent to the line, giving Roosevelt a chance to extend its lead.
Lomeli missed the free throw, however, giving Alhambra possession with less than 35 seconds left.
All signs pointed to a Moors loss, especially after Allen’s 3-point attempt rimmed out, as did Jean Almieda’s putback.
Terrence Drisdom grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled. He missed the one-and-one, and Allen’s rebound gave Alhambra possession again with 21 seconds left.
With 13.3 seconds left, Chan calmly pulled up near the top of the arc and sank a high-arching 3-pointer that sent the home crowd and coaching staff into a frenzy.
Allen, who finished with a game-high 28 points, was fouled behind the 3-point line and sealed the win for the Moors by sinking all three free throws with 1:10 left in overtime.
This game was won, however, in the third quarter.
Alhambra looked nothing in the third like it did at the start of the game. The Moors were poised and determined to drive inside, something they clearly lacked in the first half.
More importantly, Roosevelt scored as many points as it committed turnovers (six), and the Moors finished with an 11-6 run.
“We felt like we made a couple of errors that were correctable,” Petralia said.
The momentum had swung Alhambra’s way by the beginning of the fourth, and the game ended with the student section rushing the court in jubilation. The celebration later continued in the Alhambra locker room, where the team chanted Chan’s name. He finished with 13 points.
How the Mustangs’ 14-point lead at the half dissipated is something Roosevelt coach Romone Neal did not want to answer.
“Don’t remind me,” said Neal before explaining the second-half debacle. “We stopped rebounding, we stopped going to the basket and we stopped playing defense. (Alhambra) started making a little run and we couldn’t hold them down the stretch.”
The Mustangs attacked the weak side and relied on cut-back passes that resulted in easy layups in the first half.
“The kids kept their composure,” Petralia said. “They’re used to being down early, and this team doesn’t give up.”
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