Anyone who’s watched basketball for more than a few years has seen it happen. A team is down late in the game, gets a shot up, misses, and has the rebound tipped out to a teammate in what seems like slow motion. That player scoops it up and drains a heartbreaking buzzer beater.
“The Lakers and Robert Horry did it to the Kings, it happened against Poly when Sharrief (Metoyer) was coaching, it was just one of those plays,” said Long Beach Poly boys’ basketball coach Shelton Diggs.
It’s true, in the waning seconds of Tuesday’s CIF-SS Division 2AA second rounder, the Jackrabbits looked like they were headed for a tough outcome. Except that Jackrabbit senior Marcel Hayes was there to play hero for Poly, and was able to leap and stuff the potential game-tying basket giving Poly a 48-46 win over Simi Valley.
The win sends the Jackrabbits on the road to Crespi for the quarterfinals on Friday.
“I was just thinking about how I don’t want to be laying there crying after the game,” said Hayes. “I can’t have that be me, I can’t have that be my brothers. I was confident I could get a good block, I was worried about fouling him but I knew I’d get to it.”
It was a fittingly thrilling end to a game that felt like a white-knuckle ride from start to finish. The Jackrabbits moved the ball extremely well in the first half and jumped out to a 14-8 lead, and were up 25-19 at halftime after Christian Watson scored all of Poly’s points in the second quarter. But Simi Valley’s shot-making ability kept them in the game, as they’d answer a 4-0 Poly run with a deep 3-pointer to keep themselves in it.
With Watson and Jovani Ruff pouring it on in the third quarter, it looked like Poly might put Simi away, and when Gabe Cummings hit a 3-pointer to put Poly up 37-28 with 2:27 left in the third, the door was almost closed. But Simi got two baskets before the end of the quarter to cut the lead to five, and would end up tying the game 40-40 two minutes into the fourth quarter. Ruff answered with a big three to give Poly the lead back and his and-one put them up 46-41 with less than two minutes left, once again almost giving Poly control of the game.
But Simi once again refused to go away, and tied it at 46 with a minute left.
As has been the case all season, when Poly needed a bucket, they looked to Watson. He drove right and laid it up high off the glass to give Poly a 48-46 lead with 37 seconds left in the game. Simi missed a layup and then fouled Ruff, who missed a free throw with 20 seconds left, giving Simi one last chance at it, down two. On the final play, Simi’s Jack Benyshek drove in for a layup, but Watson trailed him and was able to affect his shot so the layup bounced off the front of the rim. A Simi player tipped it out to Ryder Henderson, but Hayes was able to make the block and save the day.
“We talked in the huddle before the last play about how this could be our last play, and that really sunk in and we knew we all needed to do whatever it took,” said Watson.
“That’s the value of having seniors on your team and we have a lot of them,” said Diggs. “Those guys don’t want to go home, they’re going to do anything to keep going. Even if they’re having a bad game they’re going to leave it all out there at the end.”
Watson led the way for Poly with 20 points, while Ruff added 19. Mikey Ishoo led Simi with 19 points, backed up by 13 from Benyshek.
Despite giving up just 46 points, Diggs said he was frustrated with his team’s defensive performance.
“That wasn’t up to our standard, we gave them open threes, we have to be better than that on Friday,” he said.