Southern California college basketball has a new cross-county rivalry, and it all started with a championship winning layup last season in the state championship final.
The Fullerton Hornets tragically fell to the San Diego City Knights in last season’s championship game on a buzzer-beating shot, and the rematch in San Diego last weekend swung in the Knights’ favor again.
The marquee matchup occurred for the third time between the undefeated San Diego City and 4-1 Fullerton during the Fullerton College Classic on Nov. 11, and both teams played as if the state championship were on the line again.
The floodgates were violently ripped out right at the start as the teams traded three pointers and defenses held formidably on both sides of the court.
The competition and swinging momentum was palpable, this was clearly a matchup of the two best powerhouses in California community college basketball facing off.
Fullerton’s nearly impenetrable defense began to leak early on, and San Diego City began to attack the basket and draw fouls in the process, a reoccurring problem for Fullerton.
A little over halfway through the first, Fullerton found themselves up 25-24, but leads in this matchup dissipated as quickly as they came.
San Diego City took a 26-25 lead after a quick drive into layup from Wonder Smith, but so did Fullerton’s Khalil Stevenson, who took the ephemeral lead back at 27-26.
Blow after blow the two teams went until the first half ended, Fullerton on top of San Diego City, 40-38.
Neither team lost any steam coming into the second half.
Fullerton led, but the team wasted a number of opportunities to add onto their lead by turning over the ball on careless turnovers.
Jason Richardson, however, again shined on an and-one drive to the basket for Fullerton and San Diego City turned the ball over off a travel to boost Fullerton’s confidence.
Fullerton then began to steamroll and deflate San Diego City’s confidence.
Suddenly, fouls and hasty play came from the hands of San Diego City, and Fullerton capitalized to storm through to a 56-47 lead, their biggest of the game at that point.
Much like the entire game had gone, through, San Diego City powered to tie the game at 56 a piece with 10 minutes left to play.
Emotions ran high and hearts began to pump, and then Trevor Drake pumped a three and Darius Lee thundered down a shot attempt with a fierce block from Ronne Readus, and San Diego City again took the lead, which would sustain deep into the second half.
The two teams continued to trade leads into the last seconds of the game until 26.3 seconds sat on the scoreboard, both tied at 76.
On an inbound from Fullerton, the team lost control of the ball and the rivals fumbled the ball between each other. Fullerton got the ball back, missed a shot which San Diego rebounded, and the referees called a controversial foul on Fullerton with 0.4 seconds left in the game, giving San Diego City two free throw shots.
Robert McCoy missed the first shot but made the second, giving San Diego City a one point lead which should have ended the game.
But Fullerton had one last ditch effort left in the tank.
Stevenson chucked the ball to inbound down the court which landed in Richardson’s hands, who found himself on the receiving end of yet another controversial foul call, this time in San Diego City, giving Fullerton’s star player two free throws, still with 0.4 seconds on the clock.
Richardson only needed one to tie the game. He gave two.
San Diego City inbounded, but Readus towered on defense, stuffing the undefeated team to hand them their first loss of the season and partaking in a healthy dose of revenge.
Fullerton won 78-77.
“It’s good to get a win,” said Fullerton head coach Perry Webster. “It’s early in the season, against the number one ranked team in the state. it’s not bigger than that, though.”
Again, Richardson proved to be the team’s best team and their leader, keeping composure under pressure and hitting shots when they most needed to be hit.
“I think that’s less about me and that’s more about Jason Richardson being a leader out there. He makes me look like a really good coach. He does a good job of keeping us engaged and stepping up when the moment is there. I’d like to take credit but that’s about the players doing their job,” said Webster.
Webster may be employing humility, but in this situation, Richardson really did carry the win home for Fullerton.