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Ball bounces Canyon’s way hoops

Saugus misses late free throws; Cowboys again tied for first place in Foothill League

Posted: February 5, 2010 10:57 p.m.
Updated: February 6, 2010 4:30 a.m.
You’d expect a game between halfcourt-oriented Canyon and Saugus to come down to last-second free throws.

You’d never expect what happened from there.

Saugus guard Jeremy Gatewood, a 92 percent foul shooter on the season, missed 2-of-3 free throws with his team down two points and Canyon held on for a 54-52 victory over the Centurions on Senior Night at Canyon High School.

The win puts Canyon (17-7, 6-2) in a three-way tie for first place in the Foothill League thanks to Valencia’s victory over Golden Valley on Friday.

Canyon head coach Chad Phillips was just happy to escape Friday with a win.

“We were down going in (to the fourth quarter),” he said. “With the resiliency of our team, we always fight back.”

Saugus (15-9, 3-5) eventually cut the lead to 52-48, and forward Joey Fredrick hit a 3-pointer to bring his team within one.

The Centurions intentionally fouled Canyon forward Darnel Haggerty, who split a pair of free throws to give Saugus one more shot despite trailing 53-51.

After a missed jumper by Saugus guard Jawhar Purdy, Canyon knocked the ball out of bounds and Gatewood was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 1.3 seconds left.

The sophomore missed the first two but hit the third to make it 53-52, and Canyon forward Wesley Bartole was fouled and made the first free throw before intentionally missing the second.

Saugus head coach Derek Ballard said there’s no one he’d rather have at the line than Gatewood.

“There’s one guy on the team we’d want in that situation, and that’s Jeremy Gatewood,” Ballard said. “If this Tuesday we’re faced with the same thing, we’d want Jeremy Gatewood.”

Even though he missed the free throws, Saugus probably wouldn’t have been in position to win without Gatewood, who scored 14 of his team-high 16 points in the second half and didn’t miss a field goal attempt.

Saugus led 38-36 after three quarters, but Canyon went on an 11-2 run to recapture the lead over the first four minutes of the fourth.

Forward Brian Nnaoji was a big part of the run, scoring seven of his nine points during that stretch.

“Everyone knows the fourth quarter is game time for our team,” Nnaoji said. “Players have to make plays. I felt the obligation as a captain to make plays.”

Not many players were making plays in the first half, when each teams’ slower style of play led to turnovers and poor shooting.

Both teams hit just eight field goals in the first half, after which Canyon led 24-20.

Phillips said the Cowboys wanted to take advantage of their athleticism and push the ball more, but Saugus did a good job of defending in the open floor.

“We wanted to push a little more in transition and Saugus didn’t let us do that,” he said. “They were very well-prepared.”

Every time Canyon made a run, Saugus seemed to respond. The Cowboys went on an 8-2 spurt to start the second half, which Saugus promptly countered with a 7-0 run.

Saugus could have put together bigger runs but the Cowboys’ offensive rebounding led to second-chance points.

“We really got hurt by offensive rebounding,” Ballard said. “The No. 1 focus was to not give up any trash buckets. The ball bounced the wrong way and that’s the way it ended up.”

None of those bounces were bigger than Gatewood’s missed free throws.

“I wanted my crowd to get loud,” Phillips said. “We didn’t want him to knock them down and fortunately he didn’t.”

Several Canyon seniors saw more minutes than they usually do, including Justin McCoy and Ian Fletcher.

Bartole scored 15 points to lead Canyon, while Purdy scored 10 points for Saugus and Fredrick added eight.

Canyon now heads into a big showdown with co-league leader Valencia, while Saugus will travel to Hart.

“I’ve been coaching for many years,” Ballard said, “and I’ve never had a team that’s had more character.”


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