By Stephen Ramirez
COVINA — There will be no local teams in the Covina High School boys basketball tournament championship game, but Walnut made a strong run Wednesday.Cameron Nunley tipped in a putback shot with three seconds left and J.W. North rallied for a 60-58 victory over the Mustangs in the semifinals at Covina High.
Walnut (10-5) had a chance to win it, but Eli Ramos’ desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer was wide.
North (8-3) will face Cajon, a 72-60 winner over Fremont, in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. Walnut faces Fremont at 6.
Mason Westlake led North with 17 points. Ryan Dai had 17 for Walnut.
“We played well,” Walnut coach Joe Khouzam said. “We had a couple of mental breakdowns at the wrong time. But I love this group. They fight, they don’t quit. It’s a young group and they are learning. I’m happy with how we played tonight.”
Walnut almost got it done. But North used a 15-8 blitz down the stretch to win.
The Huskies trailed most of the second half before putting together an 8-3 surge to take a 51-50 lead on a LaShawn Jackson’ 3-pointer with 3:27 remaining.
The teams then traded baskets before Walnut’s Andrew Lee (nine points) drained a 3-pointer with 31 seconds left to tie it at 58.
North then ran the clock down to about 10 seconds left when Melvin Walker missed from just inside the free-throw line. Nunley (13 points, 7 rebounds) got the rebound and tipped in an off-balance putback for the 60-58 lead.
Ramos took the in-bounds pass before missing his 3-pointer from just inside the half-court line at the buzzer.
“(North’s) last possession, we were trying to get it out of their best shooter’s hands,” Khouzam said. “We emphasized blocking out. But they got a lot of size on us and got the tip back.
“Last play, we were trying to get a deep pass down (the court). It didn’t work out as well as we wanted it to go.”
North, getting seven points from Walker and six from Westlake, led 26-25 at halftime.
Walnut opened the third quarter with a 10-5 blitz to lead 35-31 before finishing the quarter with a 7-5 run for a 42-38 lead.
The Mustangs pushed the advantage to five points twice in the fourth before North rallied.
“Tomorrow is a big game for us,” Khouzam said. “We always want to come out of a tournament 3-1 or 4-0. We still have that opportunity. If we win, we’ll get out of here 3-1, which is really good for us.”
The annual Covina Boys Basketball Christmas knockout tournament starts on Monday. Here’s the schedule, will update scores during the week.
Monday’s First Round
Cajon 74, South El Monte 38
South Hills 65, Sierra Vista 40
Fremont 67, Lakeside 64
Mountain View 84, Northview 79
Bishop Amat 81, Duarte 11
Walnut 60, California 31
JW North 76, Arroyo 27
Florida Ransom Everglades 42, Covina 34
Cajon 76, South Hills 70, OT
Fremont 67, Mountain View 65
Walnut 62, Bishop Amat 59
J.W North 50, Florida Ransom Everglades 43
Cajon 72, Fremont 60
J.W. North 60, Walnut 58
J.W. North 49, Cajon 38
Third place game
Walnut 65, Fremont 61