Coming into its Senior Night on Tuesday, the Davis High boys basketball team knew that its goal of making it to the postseason for the second consecutive season was not attainable.
But despite that knowledge, the Blue Devils refused to quit, even against the powerful Pacers from Grant.
DHS put up one of its best performances in its final game of the season, but the visitors and their star Cameron Oliver proved to be a little too much to handle. The Pacers used a second-half rally to defeat the Devils, 86-81, and clinch the Delta Valley Conference championship.
“We have the tenacity and the will to never back down,” Davis senior Ben Crook said, after scoring 24 points on the night.
“We’re undersized and, on paper, we’re always the underdogs. It’s the mental game that we have down and we can always fight.”
After watching his team put its final record at 15-11 overall and 4-6 in DVC play, Blue Devil coach Dan Gonzalez agreed with Crook:
“We never quit during this season,” said the 16th-year coach. “Boy, their size kind of took its toll on us; we thought some over-the-back calls weren’t called, and when you’re undersized and you’re working as hard as we were working … we needed those calls.”
In the first half, the locals actually shut down Oliver, who is ranked as a 3-star recruit by Rivals.com. The 6-foot-8 standout put up one only shot in the first quarter, and had just 5 points by intermission.
However, Oliver would go on to score 26 in the second half, many of them on putback dunks.
“He’s going to get his points whether it’s first half or second half,” Gonzalez said. “He’s just a heckuva athlete.”
But before that happened, DHS took advantage of Oliver’s cold first half. After two Brandon Strong 3-pointers to finish the second quarter, the Devils had a 36-33 lead entering intermission.
Davis increased that advantage to as many as 10 points in the second half, thanks largely to the performances of its seniors. A couple of times Oliver threw down an emphatic tomahawk dunk, only to see the Blue Devils come right back and hit a shot of their own on the other end.
“It’s always scary on Senior Night because you know that they know it’s their last game,” Gonzalez explained. “I thought all of them did a great job, every one of them.”
DHS hit five treys in the third quarter and finished with 16 on the night, most of them coming from usual sharpshooters Strong, Matt Michael and Crook.
However, the flow of the game completely changed in the final period.
With 3:23 remaining in the contest, and the Devils clinging to a 73-71 lead, Michael was called for pushing. The senior didn’t agree with the call and was charged with a double technical.
After the Pacers shot six free throws, making four of them, the locals found themselves trailing for the first time in the game.
Davis senior Alexander Nelson came right back down the floor and nailed a jumper to tie things up, but the Pacers had an answer.
Jeremee Churchill took the ball and made a beeline down the sideline before rising up to posterize a Blue Devil defender.
After the jam, DHS never quite regained its footing to make a comeback attempt.
Still, the Devils seemed upbeat following the loss and Gonzalez especially appreciated the work that his seniors had put in while wearing the Blue and White.
“I had a bunch of guys that always believed in team first,” Gonzalez said. “And that means that I’m blessed as a coach; that I had guys that believed in that. They wanted to represent the school in a good way and they did that all year.”
Gonzalez — who briefly stepped down during the offseason — added that he plans on returning to the helm for another season.
“Oh yeah, oh yeah,” Gonzalez said when asked about coming back. “This season kind of gave me that hunger to come back. I like what we’ve got on our younger teams, so it’s exciting.”
Notes: All nine seniors on the DHS roster — Crook, Strong, Austin Lampley, Nelson, Riley Kent, Logan Davis, Ted Riffle, Brett Bloomfield, Michael and Strong — were honored before the game. … Oliver has interest from many marquee college basketball programs including Arizona, Marquette, Oregon and UCLA.
— Reach Thomas Oide at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterThomas.