Long Beach Poly boys’ basketball coach Shelton Diggs started his birthday celebration off with a wild party. His Jackrabbits prevailed Wednesday evening in a big early Moore League battle with Compton, getting some clutch buckets down the stretch and then coming out on the right side of a bizarre sequence to win 66-65.
“We lost to Lakewood on my birthday two years ago, this is better,” said Diggs. “Can’t lose on your birthday.”
The outcome of the game was in question until the final moments. With the game tied and less than a minute on the clock, sophomore Gabe Cummings hit his second basketball of the game to put Poly up 64-61 with a 3-pointer that rattled around for a few seconds before falling in. Compton got a basket to cut the lead to one and then Peyton Watson made two free throws to give Poly a three-point lead.
Compton’s Jaylen Richardson made it a one-point game with about seven seconds left, and Watson let the ball bounce under the basket with the clock winding down, with Compton coaches furiously gesturing to the official to make him inbound it. Watson inbounded the ball with two seconds left, but the clock ran out before there was time for an intentional foul, leaving Compton coach Tony Thomas frustrated.
“He has to pick the ball up, he can’t just let it roll around down there with the clock running,” he said. “The ref said he was counting (off five) but how can he count when they don’t have the ball?”
From Diggs’ perspective, his players did the exact right thing.
“The clock stays running–if I was them I would have called a timeout right away to stop it,” said Diggs.
It was a fittingly weird end to a game that was up and down throughout. The two teams scored just 17 points in the first quarter as Compton finished it with a 9-8 lead, then Poly turned around and dropped 27 in the second quarter as they opened a 35-27 lead.
Compton clawed back into it in the third quarter behind some big baskets from Jabari Steward, and then ended up tying it in the fourth quarter with 4:07 left in the game. Cummings’ three put Poly up for good with 47 seconds left, although it felt like it took a few seconds of bouncing around before it fell through.
“I don’t think I’ve had a shot stay up there that long,” said Cummings after the game. “It felt good, the release was straight, I knew I hit it, I was sure it was going in.”
Watson led Poly with 23 points, and said his team needed to win a close game after several heartbreaking losses, including a narrow overtime defeat to Mayfair last weekend.
“We need to learn how to pull close games out, it was nice to do it with a lot of energy in the building,” he said.
Poly players and coaches noted that the stands were near full.
“Peyton can dunk, we get some online video stuff from that and it brings people out,” said Diggs. “It was nice to see the crowd like that, it makes it more fun for everyone.”
Wendell Caldwell had 15 points for Poly, while Compton was led by 16 points apiece from Steward and Kobi Malone. It was a well-played game overall for Compton, particularly shooting the ball, as they knocked down eight three’s.
“If we’d played like this against Millikan we would have blown them out,” said Thomas. “This was a good game for us–but we’re 1-2 now.”
Poly and Millikan are tied for first as the Moore League’s lone undefeated teams–the two will meet at Poly on Friday, January 17.