Two minutes into the fourth quarter of its CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA semifinal Friday night against Oaks Christian, Mission Prep boys basketball coach Terrance Harris turned to his assistants and said something that sounded highly improbable — if not impossible — just 30 minutes earlier.
“I said we were going to get a few stops, and we are going to win this game,” he said. “That was the mindset. We just needed to find a way to get stops.”
Nearly all the way back from a 16-point halftime deficit, the hometown Royals had pulled within five on an NBA-length 3-pointer from star point guard Quinton Adlesh.
But the second-seeded Lions — equipped with a 6-foot-8 Cal Poly signee and the son of an NBA celebrity — got a few stops of their own and made enough free throws to hold on for a 69-59 victory and a spot in the 4AA finals.
“We got down early and again in the third, but we just kept battling,” Mission Prep junior Brandon Jones said. “That’s been one characteristic about our team: We never laid down once.”
It sure would have been easy with the way things started Friday night.
Oaks Christian (25-5) led 14-3 in the blink of an eye, beating the Royals down the court for transition buckets and getting 10 early points from Kenny Smith Jr., the son of TNT analyst and former NBA point guard Kenny “The Jet” Smith.
But as was the case all season,
Mission Prep — led by an indefatigable Adlesh — made it close in the end. Adlesh tied Smith Jr. with a game-high 21 points, and did so while fighting through double teams and full-court pressure from start to finish.
“I thought (Adlesh) took that challenge on, because he could have laid down,” said the elder Smith, who was in attendance and spent halftime taking photos with fans. “My son came out really strong — and they went up big. He could have laid down, but he took the challenge, which was good.”
Adlesh hit five field goals, including a leaning bank 3-pointer through a double team to close out the third, and was 6 of 7 from the foul line. Jones was the only other Royal to score in double figures, making two 3s and two other field goals to finish with 10.
The loss ended a 17-game winning streak for Mission Prep (24-5), which is eligible for the Division 4 regional playoffs and could find out as early as Sunday if it is invited.
“It was a special year, because we had moved up a division and lost a lot of seniors, so a lot of people doubted us,” said Jones, who is one of three starters who will return next year. “We came out and proved them wrong. We’re still a young team, so we’re going to go into the offseason ready to work hard.”
Jordan Flannery scored 14 points for the Lions, including a pair of and-1 layups early in the second quarter that extended their early lead to 25-11. Oaks Christian built the advantage despite the absence of future Cal Poly power forward Aleks Abrams.
The 6-foot-8 senior was relegated to the bench for much of the first three quarters because of foul trouble. He got into a rhythm in the third, backing down the Royals on back-to-back possessions to score a pair of turnaround buckets.
“He likes to bang,” said the elder Smith of Abrams, who finished with nine points, seven rebounds and two blocks. “As the years go on, he’s going to really help (the Mustangs). Initially, he’ll be a big body that can bang and rebound. But as he goes on, his junior and senior year, he’ll be a good scorer in the post.”
Senior Patrick Laird finished with seven points for the Royals, as did sophomore Kerney Lane, who nearly brought the roof down when his and-1 bucket early in the fourth quarter brought Mission Prep within single digits for the first time since the opening minutes.
Mission Prep couldn’t get much closer, but Harris knows the experience drawn from a night his team went toe-to-toe with one of the division’s best will only help.
“They made believers out of me,” Harris said. “I have young men with great character. Every single game we came and competed. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for.”