LEMOORE - Fullerton began its 23-game win streak on December 2 with a 91-81 victory over East Los Angeles. Today, 129 days later, East Los Angeles nearly ended it.
Fullerton used a late 12-0 run to advance to the state finals on Sunday at 1 pm after a 75-63 semifinal victory over East Los Angeles at the 2023 CCCAA State Championship tournament at West Hills-Lemoore College. The Hornets will be trying to win its fifth CCCAA men's basketball championship. The Hornets last won a state title in 2019 over San Francisco. Fullerton will meet the winner of San Francisco City, the defending state champions, Citrus.
East Los Angeles, who suffered a late scoring cold streak, going scoreless for four minutes and 10 seconds, was trying to make its second-ever appearance in the finals. The Huskies lost to Saddleback in the 2015 championship game, 50-47.
After trading punches, the game came down to the final nine minutes of the game.
A Sammy Howlin layup pulled Fullerton into a tie at 53-53. East Los Angeles' Demetrius Calip countered with a three-pointer at 8:34, returning the lead to Huskies at 56-53. A Shaquil Bender layup on a feed from Sean Newman got Fullerton back within one at 56-55. A Jeremiah Davis layup with 6:09 remaining gave Fullerton its second lead of the half, and it proved to be the last time there was a change in the lead.
East Los Angeles, who shot 34 percent from the floor, missed its next six shots. And, Fullerton would capitalize, outscoring the Huskies 12-0 as East Los Angeles saw a 56-55 lead evaporate into a 69-60 deficit.
The game certainly lived up to everyone's expectations.
East Los Angeles' defense, especially, in the first half slowed Fullerton's key offensive pieces. Sean Newman, the Orange Empire Conference Player of the Year and an all-state selection, was held to 4 points and 3 assists in the first half and Shaquil Bender, an all-state selection, managed 7 points. Newman finished with 19 points and 6 assists. Eleven of his points came in the final four minutes of the contest as the Hornets pulled away. Bender finished with 9 points. The Hornets' bench stepped up, scoring 28 points, led by RJ Banks who had 13.
Fullerton head coach Perry Webster was especially proud of his 6-11, sophomore center Howlin who finished with 7 points and 10 rebounds.
"Eight months ago, he was involved in a near-death car accident when he was hit by a drunk driver, Webster said. "He suffered a broken collarbone. Today, he came back from all of that to help us today to the victory."
East Los Angeles JT Langston, an all-state selection, led the Huskies with 18 points, scoring 10 in the first half. Teammate Jon Sanders added 14 points with 3 assists.
The two teams fought to a 35-35 tie at halftime. The period featured several runs. East Los Angeles scored the first six points of the game and 14 of the first 19. Fullerton then used a 17-7 run to tie the game at 22-22 on a RJ Banks steal and layup with 7:26 left in the half. East Los Angles would regain the lead and hold it until a Jeremiah Davis layup at the buzzer forced a 35-35 tie at halftime.
Much of the game, especially early, was played in the paint. The two teams combined to score 66 of 82 (two-point baskets) in the paint. It ended in a near draw as Fullerton scored 34 of its 75 points in the paint and East Los Angeles scored 32 of its 63. The two teams finished 42-41 on rebounds. East Los Angeles, however, dominated the offensive end, securing 16 offensive rebounds, and providing 15 second-chance points.
(Robert Schmidt, CCCMBCA(