In a closely contested battle, the Hornets hit crucial free throws down the stretch to edge out the Jaguars 67-64, who outscored the Hornets by 30 points from the 3-point line. With this victory FC will advance to the California Community College Athletic Association State Tournament quarterfinals.
Even with home court advantage, the visiting Southwestern Jaguars made sure to come out with strong force on and off the court for the SoCal Regionals Final.
During the early possessions of the game, the Jaguars were red hot from the field and got to a 13-7 lead five minutes into the game. This prompted Fullerton to take the first timeout of the game.
Coming out of the timeout, the Hornets got a quick layup from freshman Omajae Smith. However, Southwestern continued to lay it on Fullerton from long range as the support of their traveling fans and cheerleaders grew louder. Now the lead grew for the Jaguars to 21-9.
Through the efforts of Hornet sophomores Ronne Readus and Jailen Moore, both began the initial charge to bring the Hornets back into the game. In back to back possessions, Moore assisted Readus’ layup and Moore drilled a 3-pointer. This cut down the lead back to single digits.
With the Jaguars defense focusing their attention and shutting out the Hornets leading scorer Lance Coleman II for the first half, the Hornets had to adjust as Coleman II has been the focal point of the Hornet’s offense all season.
Fullerton captain guard Rodrick McCobb took on the role as the Hornets scorer for the first half in the absence of Coleman’s offense. McCobb had himself 8 points from 3 of 5 shooting and a free throw for the half.
During his only free throw trip in the half, McCobb faced the adversity from the opposing crowd when he missed his first free throw. They chanted “Airball” right after, and yet McCobb was still able to convert.
“We stuck together because we’ve been through adversity the whole year and never broke apart… I personally blocked out the opposing fans you feel me, I just got to stay tight with my teammates and coaches to achieve what we want,” McCobb stated.
“The state tournament is the real deal and I am ready to get to work,” McCobb added.
When sophomore Dylan Banks entered the game, he helped the Hornets overcome the deficit and take the lead with his efforts on both ends of the floor. Banks would contribute 6 points to go along with 3 steals to end the half.
Both sides would go into halftime tied at 31 apiece, with the Jaguars having a hot start and the Hornets finishing out strong.
In the second half, the Hornets shooting was still the same percentage wise as their first. What changed was their defensive intensity and the Jaguars willingness to foul and put the Hornets in the bonus.
Smith’s efficient offense carried over from the first half and into the second. However, most of Smith’s points in the second half would come from the charity strike. Smith’s aggressiveness to attack the basket is what propelled the Jaguars to be in foul trouble.
“I had to score 15 tonight because Lance and Jailen weren’t getting their shots. Moments like these gave me the experience and showed me the blueprint to be a leader for next season after the sophomores leave. Everything we’re doing right now, I have to make sure we do next year,” Smith explained.
“From this game, I can still learn how to handle the ball better. A lot better. But we’re heading towards the state tournament because as a team we pick each other up,” Smith added.
Going back and forth for the first six minutes of the final half, the Hornets were able to steer the momentum towards their way when they took the lead off of McCobb’s free throws with 12:18 left in the game.
From then on, the Hornets would not give up the lead. In fact, they were able to add to the lead and make it double digits. This proved to be vital in the Hornets victory as the Jaguars were able to fight back to make for a thrilling finish.
Coleman II made sure to impact the game for the Hornets by making a critical jump shot to make it a two-possession game at 63-59 with 53 seconds left. He also hit all of his free throws with 8 seconds left to push the lead back to four.
Had Coleman II missed any of his free throws during those attempts, the fate of the Hornets could have possibly changed for the worst. As the Jaguars Tyler Simmons hit a quick three right to make the score 65-64 after they had called a timeout to advance the ball.
The game ended with a Jaguars turnover as they only had a second to tie the game after Banks hit both free throws to push the Hornets lead to 67-64.
This is Fullerton’s head coach Perry Webster’s second time going to the state tournament and he expressed his excitement for the team as they battled through to get to this point.
“We’re really excited. I’m really happy for this group of guys because they put in a lot of work together. That was a really really good opponent and really though game man. We just dug in and found a way,” coach Perry emphasized.
“We’ve been down before. Our guys are very tight and don’t split apart. We’re not even playing to score in the first half. We’re just trying to play and continue to execute by making stops on the defensive end first,” coach Perry added.
The Hornets have proven all season to be versatile in handling adversity when it presents itself by adjusting their gameplan for each situation and hopes to bring this momentum of winning their last home game of the season to the state tournament.
Now the No.1 Hornets (27-3) will travel up to Ventura College and will face No. 4 Santa Rosa on Thursday, March 14 at 7 p.m. for the CCCAA State Tournament quarterfinals.