Basketball Long Beach Poly

CIF Boys’ Basketball: Long Beach Poly’s Comeback Falls Short Against Marina

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Saturday’s CIF-SS Division 2A title game against Marina sure looked like a microcosm of Long Beach Poly’s season. The Jackrabbits got off to a slow and disjointed start, which left them with a 12-point deficit at halftime.

But just as they did at the midway point of their season, the Jackrabbits made adjustments and went on a run, cutting their deficit to just two with eight minutes left. The fourth quarter was the unwritten final chapter on their quest for the program’s 21st CIF title, it just wasn’t the ending they’d hoped for.

Unfortunately for the green & gold, the shots just didn’t go down when they needed them. Poly shot just 3/14 in the final period as Marina came away with a 53-49 win at Edison High School.

“We had a lot of easy shots that we normally make that just kind of went in and out, or went off the rim,” said Poly head coach Shelton Diggs after the loss. “It’s a make or miss game, and we just missed too many shots that we normally make.”

With a full week to scout and prepare for the game, Marina head coach Nick Racklin worked on a 2-3 zone defense and installed a 2-2-1 press to try to slow down the Jackrabbits offense. It worked for a majority of the game as Poly shot just over 30 percent on the night, going 6/23 from beyond the three-point line.

“We haven’t 2-2-1 pressed all year. We put it in this week, and I think it slowed them down,” Racklin explained. “We went 2-2-1 back to a 2-3 to slow them down a little bit, and we closed out a little softer than we normally do. We knew Jovani Ruff was going to get his shots, and if we looked at the box score after the game and they were 11/20 from three, then so be it. But obviously the stats kind of show that we had the right mindset.”

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Poly came out slow in the opening quarter against Marina’s 2-3 zone, scoring just nine points in the frame while the Vikings raced out to a 17-9 advantage. Marina continued that pace in the second quarter, hitting three triples, including a buzzer-beater by Dylan Gomez.

The Vikings scored five points in the final 10 seconds of the half after Austin Unegbu had cut the lead down to seven, putting Marina on top 34-22 at half.

Poly couldn’t have started the second half much better, ripping off a 12-0 run in less than four minutes to tie the game, 34-34. The top three scorers for the Jackrabbits all played a part, with Jovani Ruff (19 points), Unegbu (10 points) and Giovanny Ofoegbu (13 points) contributing to that spurt. Ofoegbu hit a pair of three pointers in that third quarter, including the shot to tie it.

However, the Vikings immediately countered with six unanswered points, and Poly was unable to regain that offensive rhythm the rest of the night.

After outsourcing the Vikings 16-6 in the third quarter, Poly trailed by just two points going into the fourth. However, the Jackrabbits went ice cold, going just 3/14 over the final eight minutes and 1/6 from beyond the arc.

“It was a situation where I had to go and try to put points on the board fast, and my guys trust me taking a lot of those tough shots,” said Ruff, who finished 7/23 from the floor and 1/7 from deep. “I really make a lot of them but, you know, a lot of them just weren’t falling. I appreciate everybody from Poly that popped out though, we’re sorry, but we’re gonna be back though.”

Nana Ofoegbu’s three pointer made it a three-point game with just over one minute to play, and Poly was able to get the ball back down three with under 30 seconds left. However, the Jackrabbits ended up on the wrong side of a free throw shootout as Marina made all seven of its attempts and closed out the game at the charity stripe.

Junior point guard Barak Simon had a team-high 19 points and five assists for the Vikings, with Dylan Gomez adding 11 points. Mark Yeager had nine and Ryan O’Rourke chipped in eight. 

“We went into this thing knowing that Poly had 20 CIF boys’ basketball championships, and we had zero,” said Racklin. “And I think that was motivation enough for our guys to just say, why not? Why not Marina? We played San Gabriel Academy in the semis, and we talked about how we had to be the best box out team on the planet, and how we had to be the toughest team on that floor … And we certainly met both of those goals today.”

It’s been an up-and-down season for Diggs and the Jackrabbits, who’d rattled off 20 wins in their last 21 games prior to Saturday’s defeat. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for the Moore League champions, who will get a chance to rewrite their story in the CIF State tournament.

“This is my third championship loss in a row, so I kind of know how to get back up and get ready to go to State,” said Diggs. “We’ll have to regroup, but I mean, I’ve been here before, so I have to get these guys ready to get on a state run now.”

Brackets for the CIF State tournament will be released on Sunday evening.

VIDEO: Long Beach Poly vs. Marina, CIF Boys’ Basketball
PHOTOS: Long Beach Poly vs Marina CIF Basketball Championship
Tyler Hendrickson
Tyler Hendrickson was born and raised in Long Beach, and started covering sports in his hometown in 2010. After five years as a sportswriter, Tyler joined the athletic department at Long Beach State University in 2015. He spent more than four years in the athletic communications department, working primarily with the Dirtbags baseball program. Tyler also co-authored of The History of Long Beach Poly: Scholars & Champions.