By Miguel A. Melendez Staff Writer
PASADENA – Shock, dejection, disbelief.
Those were the feelings the Muir High School boys basketball team inflicted on crosstown rival Pasadena in a game that did more than send a ripple effect throughout the Pacific League.
It sent shock waves.
For the first time in more than a decade, the Mustangs on Friday night gave the Bulldogs a taste of their own medicine, hitting clutch free throws in waning seconds while an experienced team collapsed.
When the final seconds ticked off the clock, Muir players were joined by a throng of fans and let out a roar to solidify a contentious 64-60 win in front of an overflow crowd that descended upon Pasadena High hours before tipoff.
Muir (18-1, 7-0) handed Pasadena (13-6, 6-1) only its third loss during its nine-year reign as league champion, previously losing twice to Crescenta Valley. Muir coach Gamal Smalley, in his third season at the helm and a 1976 graduate, couldn’t remember the last time Muir beat its bitter rival.
In playoff-like atmosphere where more than several hundred fans were shunned outside during halftime of the girls’ afternoon game, Muir survived woeful free-throw shooting in the third and fourth quarters and having its two most physical players in Andre Frazier and Taturs Mayberry foul out in critical moments of the game.
Muir’s Jelani Mitchell, Deon Nelson, Michael Cockrell and Tevin Polk, who was nothing short of brilliant with 16 points off the bench, carried the Mustangs with key baskets, steals and free throws.
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Mitchell hit three free throws in the final 13 seconds to all but seal the win for Muir. Ajon Efferson’s desperation shot from beyond the arc with less than seven seconds left never had a chance as it graced the rim before time expired.
Tucker said 6-foot-5, 220-pound forward Brandon Jolley, who scored nine of his 16 points in the third quarter but had none in the fourth, needed more touches in critical moments late in the game, but they never came despite the clear mismatch after Muir’s big men fouled out.
“We weren’t smart down the stretch,” he said. “You have a young point guard and that’s the part Efferson has to get better at. He doesn’t command the court at the end of the game.”
Ultimately, it was Tucker’s responsibility to get the word out.
“I have to take responsibility for that,” he said. “We didn’t get him the ball down the stretch as much as we should.”
Nelson, with 1:21 left in the game, was fouled behind the 3-point line, much to the chagrin of Tucker. Nelson hit 2 of 3 free throws to tie the game at 60-60. On the ensuing possession, Cockrell made a key steal and fed the ball to Nelson, who then was fouled by Blake Hamilton, his fifth of the game, with 46 seconds left in the game. Nelson made 1 of 2 free throws.
Pasadena appeared to have some of the momentum back on the next play, but Raymond Jackson’s dunk with 26 seconds left was disallowed after it was ruled offensive goaltending on Brandon Jolley’s shot attempt. Replays would show that the ball was out of play.
Jolley was in early foul trouble, picking up his third foul with 5:33 left in the second quarter. He sat the rest of the way. John Haywood (13 points) and Blake Hamilton (12 points) would later foul out, albeit late in the game.
“We got everybody on the bench,” Tucker said. “We were handcuffed early. I knew that if we had everybody on the court we would come back.”
Pasadena was outmuscled, outhustled and, plainly put, outplayed in the second quarter.
“That quarter was big,” Mitchell said. “If we didn’t key in in that quarter,and knock down free near the end we probably would have lost the game.”
Pasadena recorded its only field goal in the second quarter on a Perris Hicks layup that was fueled by a Jolley block on the other end. That basket came 20 seconds into the quarter and the Bulldogs wouldn’t score another field goal the rest of the half.
Pasadena came away empty on nine consecutive possessions in that stretch, the fourth coming on a shot clock violation with 2:56 left. Their only other two points came from Haywood’s free throws to give the Bulldogs a 21-18 lead with 6:00 left in the game. Muir ended the second half on a 10-0 run and led, 28-21.
Frazier helped start the Mustangs’ defensive prowess in that quarter with two consecutive blocks, the latter fueling a Polk drive to the basket for an uncontested layup to tie the game at 21-21 with 3:58 left in the second quarter.
“It’s a game of runs as my friend Tuck always says,” Smalley said. “We knew they would have one in them, but we had the last one.”
The highly-anticipated matchup lived up to its billing, and fans found no solace despite pounding the door at one end of the gym in an attempt to sneak into the packed gym.
The contentious first quarter featured a fastbreak dunk (Frazier) and no-look assists (Blake Hamilton) for easy layups (Perris Hicks).
While the game was one for the ages in the long history of the neighboring schools, it didn’t end in a celebratory mood.
Well after the game ended and fans began filing out of the gym, Jolley got into a shouting match with a Muir fan near the team’s locker room and got in Mitchell’s face, who was not part of the altercation but came at the center of it on his way to the visiting team’s changing room. Jolley, who had to physically be restrained by Pasadena athletic director Tony Brooks, suffered a cut to his right hand, dropping blood on the floor and smearing it on several walls.
On-site Pasadena police officers cleared the crowd and escorted Muir’s basketball team to its waiting bus. Later, a fight ensued just outside the gym, prompting extra patrol cars to respond. No arrests were made.
Pasadena 36, Muir 32
Kristina Tatikian scored a team high 10 points to help the Bulldogs (11-7, 4-2) hand the Mustangs (17-4, 6-1) their first loss in the Pacific League.
The fourth quarter may have been marred by turnovers, but it was Pasadena’s clutch free-throw shooting coupled with Muir’s inability to counter with the same.
Pasadena led after the third quarter, 30-26, and was clinging to a 35-32 lead with 1:06 left in the game.
Muir had its chances in the waning minutes. Tahniya Sweat stole the inbounds pass with 40 seconds left in the game, only to see Dariel Johnson take it away. The two tangled and a jump ball ensued, in favor of the Bulldogs. Pasadena inbounded the ball and after dribbling the ball past midcourt called a timeout with 19 seconds left in left in the game.
Johnson was fouled with 17 seconds left in the game. She missed her first free throw but made the second one to give the Bulldogs the lead for good.