By Stephen Ramirez
@SteveRRamirez on Twitter
WALNUT >> Walnut High School didn’t win the Hacienda League boys basketball championship Monday. But the Mustangs took a major step.
Jeff Huang scored 20 points and Walnut took control of the league race after withstanding a furious second-half surge from Diamond Bar to score a 56-53 victory over the visiting Brahmas.
Walnut, also getting 9 points each from Zuri Williams and Richard Rycraw improved to 16-5 overall and 6-0 in league play to hold a two-game lead over Diamond Bar, which slipped to 7-14 and 4-2.
The Brahmas, after two free throws by Williams with 14 seconds left, had a chance to tie the score, but Bobby Meshesha missed back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds. Leo Li led the Brahmas with 17 points.
Walnut, after making 15 of 26 shots, including five 3-pointers in the first half, looked like it might cruise to the win after taking a 38-19 lead after the first two quarters. But Diamond Bar got back into it, holding the Mustangs to two field goals in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 43-37 going into the fourth before getting within three on an Evon Shubin putback with 57 seconds left to play.
Huang made one of two free throws to push it to 54-50 with 54 seconds remaining. Meshesha then missed a short jumper with 26 seconds left. But Huang couldn’t convert two free throws before Li nailed a 3-pointer with 14.3 seconds left to cut it to 54-53.
Williams was fouled on the in-bounds’ pass and calmly sank two free throws to push it to 56-53. Meshesha was short on a 3-pointer with about 8 seconds left before grabbing the rebound on a ricochet for a desperation attempt, which was short at the buzzer.
Walnut coach Josh Cameron: “They’re are our true rival. No one is going to quit on that rivalry, whether you are up by 20 or down by 20. But our guys were resilient. We have some three-year varsity players, so they are used to this.”
Diamond Bar coach Henry Frierson: “It’s not the way we drew it up. We got two good looks at the rim, and in a game like this that’s all you can ask for.Bottom line, is that we just dug ourselves too deep of a whole in the first half. The second half we made a valiant effort. But it was just too little, too late.”