A monster third quarter from the Mountain House High boys' varsity basketball team saw the Mustangs come from behind to win the 32nd Annual West High Holiday basketball tournament — beating the Pitman High Pride 61-47.
The Mustangs got off to a slow start — perhaps a little caught off guard by the fast pace and fundamentally sound basketball that was being played by the well-coached Pitman team.
The Pride went on a 10-2 run to start the game before Mustangs head coach Reno Ursal called a quick time out to talk things over with his group.
In the direct aftermath, the Mustangs were able to settle into the game more but still trailed by six after one and by four at 26-22 at half-time. Junior guard EJ Campbell led Mountain House with 7 points at the break — keeping his team within striking distance.
The Mustangs well and truly arrived to the party after the interval when they erupted for a 22-10 third quarter that saw them take an eight-point lead into the fourth. The avalanche was a collective team effort with Mountain House doing a terrific job at crashing the glass and containing the tricky Pride offense.
“They played to their potential in the second half,” Ursal told the Tracy Press. “That’s always a challenge. It’s for them to play together. Sometimes they go away from that because teenagers are teenagers, but we do our best to keep them together.”
With the team playing better as a unit, Campbell also shifted into another gear and did most of the Mustangs’ damage offensively by either scoring or creating opportunities for his teammates.
It took the Mustangs' guard under five minutes to double his points tally from the first half and give his team their first lead of the game — at 28-26 — via a pure mid-range jumper with 4:45 left in the third.
Campbell poured in a game-high 22 points to go along with four assists, three boards, and two steals to lead the way. He capped off a terrific tournament with a spectacular championship game performance.
The Mustangs’ baskets that brought them within two (I. Chenier layup), tied the game up (Campbell layup), and gave them the lead were all assisted by junior center Gabriel Williams who had four assists and five boards in the game.
Williams spoke about the importance of being able to impact games in more ways than just scoring afterwards.
“If me and CJ (Cedrick Major Jr.) don’t get the boards, then nobody will get the boards,” he said. “So, it’s really important. If we get the boards then we can pass the ball back out to our guards and set something up to get a bucket after that.”
The rest of the third quarter saw the Mustangs continue to do damage on both ends of the floor. The defense completely suffocated and clamped down the once smooth-running Pitman offense.
Down at the other end, Campbell had 12 of Mountain House’s 22 points and three assists to turn the game on its head.
Mountain House has built a bit of a reputation for being a second-half team thus far this season and their performance after the break in this one sure did back up that claim.
After the game, Ursal went into more detail on what went on in the locker room at half-time. He said: “We pride ourselves on half-time adjustments. We try to have a defensive emphasis and focus on who the opposition’s key players are so we can make it harder on them.”
The Mustangs were able to see the game out in the fourth by maintaining their effort levels to keep the battling Pride at an arm’s length. They dominated the glass with a total of 28 team rebounds. Junior forward Cedrick Major Jr. led the team with seven, along with 8 points. Senior point guard Isaiah Chenier chipped in with 10 points and three assists.
Junior forward Thurmond Thorpe got all six of his very timely points in the fourth to help fend off Pitman’s approaches. It was then not long before errors started to creep in for the desperate Pride and the Mustangs took advantage of all of those ruthlessly.
A series of turnovers late on saw the Mountain House lead swell up to 14 points with layups from senior guard Darion Petty and Campbell icing the game with around a minute and a half to spare.
The win marked a second straight tournament victory for the Mustangs after they won the Freedom High tourney last week. It was also their eighth straight win in all competitions to bring their record on the season to 10-1. A terrific start for Ursal and his squad with just over two weeks left until the start of Western Athletic Conference (WAC) play.
Coming out of the locker room, Major Jr. summed up the mood in the camp after an emotion fueled weekend and gave thoughts on the team’s start to the campaign.
“This one feels good,” he said. “We didn’t want to just win that game (61-53 W over Kimball on Friday) and come out and lose the whole tournament. It was good. A moment to make a statement.”