Defending champion City College of San Francisco rallies from big deficit to beat Citrus in OT, 90-84; Will face Fullerton for title

(Jon Marley, CCCAA)
(Jon Marley, CCCAA)

Tournament Central

LEEMORE - City College of San Francisco head coach Justin Labagh gets his shot at history.

San Francisco City, the defending state champions, used a furious second-half comeback, forcing overtime before pulling out a 90-84 victory in a semifinal game at the CCCAA Men's Basketball State Championship tournament at West Hills-Lemoore College.

By rallying for the victory, San Francisco City will be vying for a state-leading sixth state men's basketball title, breaking a five-championship tie with Cerritos, Fresno City and Long Beach City. It will also have a specific meaning for Labagh, who has coached the Rams to four of those state titles. With a victory over Fullerton, the south's No. 1 seed, Sunday at 1 pm, Labagh will surpass legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian who collected four state titles with three at Riverside City and one at Pasadena City 

Tarkanian won four consecutive titles from 1964 to 1967. In 1966, Tarkanian and his 1966 Riverside team beat San Francisco City, 91-61, for the state title. Labagh has won titles in 2011, 216, 2018 and 2022. 

The championship meeting will be the second this season between these two powerhouse programs. The Hornets will be trying to win a fifth CCCAA men's basketball championship. The Hornets last won a state title in 2019 over, ironically, San Francisco. In the two teams' first meeting, back on Nov. 17 in the College of the Sequoias' Giants Classic, Fullerton scored a 96-92 overtime victory.

San Francisco, the south's No. 1 seed, beat Citrus despite committing 39 turnovers, 24 in the first half. The two teams were whistled for 69 fouls, leading to 83 free throws, 49 by San Francisco City. The Owls capitalized on the San Francisco City's turnovers, converting the Rams' first-half turnovers into 20 points. 

Citrus settled for a 38-35 halftime lead. The halftime deficit was just the Rams' fourth this season. This season, the Rams had only trailed in games against Fullerton, North Idaho, and Chabot this season. And San Francisco lost each of those games. Also, San Francisco City had committed 20 or more turnovers in only four previous games. Citrus had only forced 20 or more turnovers in four games this season. The Owls best effort was 21, twice, one being at West Hills-Lemoore College on December 13, an 84-64 win over the Golden Eagles.

With 13:12 remaining in the game, the Owls led 55-42. With 10 minutes to go, Citrus led 61-51 but went over three-and-a-half minutes without a basket. The cold streak allowed San Francisco City to climb back within 63-62. Ultimately, San Francisco City outscored Citrus 32-19 over the final 13 minutes to force overtime. Counting the overtime period, the Rams outscored Citrus, 39-23, in the final 15 minutes of the game.

Citrus' troubles began at the foul line where the Owls were 18 of 33 in regulation and the Owls' troubles extended to ball control issues and shooting struggles down the stretch. After shooting 45 percent in the first half, the Owls shot 39 percent in the second half on 11 of 28. In the final minutes and into the overtime period, Citrus found themselves with ball control issues with a number occurring in the backcourt. In the final seconds of regulation, the Owls were called for a halfcourt violation. Overall, Citrus themselves committed 32 turnovers. 

In the overtime period, San Francisco got off to a fast start, scoring the first seven points for an 81-74 lead. Citrus managed to cut the lead to six twice but would never get any closure.

Eight players scored in double figures in the game, led by San Francisco City's TeJon Sawyer who had 21. EJ Neal and CJ Hardy added 18 and 16, respectively. 

"It won't show in the box score, but EJ won this game for us by taking all of those charges."

Citrus was led by Chris Chiles and Jayden Johnson who each had 14. Reserves Jamal Briscoe and Uriah Foster each added 12. Citrus got 43 of their 84 points from their bench.

"Now, I know what they mean by 'stealing' a game," a relieved Labagh said. "We have a resilient team. We have four guys that have won this tournament last year. They know what it takes to win this event.

"(But to do so again), we need to clean up a lot of stuff by tomorrow."

(Robert Schmidt, CCMBCA)