It was a battle of the Moore League’s two best teams, and in the end, great coaching and free throw shooting boosted Long Beach Poly to a 45-44 win over Compton.
The win puts Poly (16-4, 8-0) three games clear of the rest of the Moore League, a commanding lead.
Compton took a 15-6 lead early, but Poly didn’t panic.
“No need to panic, our guys are battle tested,” said Poly coach Shelton Diggs. “Just run our stuff–this was a playoff type game, we need more games like this.”
Poly was down 25-18 midway through the second quarter when Malik Salahuddin locked in on defense, forcing a turnover, then getting a layup with a foul on the other end. Poly closed the second quarter on an 8-0 run that gave them a 26-25 halftime lead.
“Honestly, games like this are great,” said Salahuddin. “When we’re scoring 100 it’s not making us better. Games like this are the kind we’re going to have to win to get where we want in the playoffs.”
Poly beat Cabrillo 100-44 on Monday, but coaches and players all agreed they’d rather be forced to execute in a tight game like the one against Compton.
The Tarbabes’ defensive effort never faltered, as Jabari Steward and Cameron Denson combined for seven blocks. Compton tied the game at 32 late int he third quarter and led 37-36 with 4:35 remaining. But Poly’s defense flustered Compton, and the Jackrabbits ended up with 15 points off of turnovers, a third of their total in the game.
The Jackrabbits also got terrific coaching and late-game execution to sew up the win. The Jackrabbits were up by just one with 26 seconds left after a point from Denson. With only three team fouls, Compton had to foul four times to send Poly to the line, where Salahuddin calmly made both free throws. With a three-point lead, Poly waited until Compton got across half court and fouled, sending them to the line. After Reggie Trimble made the first, he tried to create an offensive rebound opportunity by intentionally missing the second, but he didn’t hit rim, awarding the ball back to Poly. Salahuddin made two free throws again, giving Poly a four-point lead, allowing them to back off and let Denson hit a buzzer-beater to make it a one-point game.
“We trust coach Shell at the end of games, he always knows exactly what to do and so we don’t question it,” said Salahuddin. “He lives and breathes basketball he’s always coaching or watching a game.”
Salahuddin had 13 points, while Justin Rene led with 14. Denson led Compton with a game-high 18 points, backed up by nine from Dennis Johnson.