Trailing by two points at halftime, Cuesta College men’s basketball head coach Rusty Blair pulled guard Jeremy Landenbergue aside.
Staring at the freshman, who got the last-minute start after Calen Coleman was benched because of a sprained ankle, Blair put it bluntly.
You’re not playing well, he said.
“It was a surprise start for him, and I felt he wasn’t ready in the first half,” Blair said. “I sat right there and looked at him and said you’re going to be my guy in the second half. I am giving you another chance.”
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Landenbergue made the most of it, finishing with a team-high 23 points to help spark a huge second half that Cuesta (14-6, 2-0 Western State Conference) used to defeat rival Allan Hancock 82-73 on Saturday night.
“I just played basketball,” said Landenbergue, who went 9-of-10 shooting from the floor with two 3-pointers. “I know I can play like that. I just proved it today.”
Through the first 20 minutes, though, he didn’t and Cuesta trailed at halftime.
Malte Kramer hit the first bucket of the game and both teams kept firing. With 13 minutes left in the first half, Kramer hit a 3-pointer to put the Cougars up 17-16, just before the Bulldogs (14-5, 1-1) came right back with a 3-point play from Andrew Douby. The Cougars would race out to as much as a 26-19 lead, but Allan Hancock answered once again, this time with a 3-pointer.
With the Cougars leading 33-28, Allan Hancock started to find its rhythm. Abe Millsap tied the score at 33 with a jumper off the baseline, paving the way for the Bulldogs to take a 39-35 lead. But with Cuesta on the ropes, Landenbergue hit a basket on the Cougars’ last possession before the break, giving them just enough momentum to spark a second-half rally.
And the Cougars rallied in a big way. Landenbergue hit a 3-pointer one minute into the period, starting what would be an 18-8 run capped by a jumper from Kramer with 13 minutes left in the game.
Cuesta never looked back.
“The second half we just played as a team more,” Kramer said. “We made the extra pass, got our intensity up on defense and got important stops. That was key.”
It was somewhat of a sweet win for the Cougars, who fell to the Bulldogs 70-69 after Douby hit the game-clinching free throw with two seconds left Dec. 30.
And with an 84-79 win over Ventura already under their belt, the Cougars have backed up their impressive nonconference start with two big Western State Conference wins.
“Well, obviously they are really big for us because we expect Hancock and Ventura to be on top of the league with us, but I think in this league it’s pretty even,” Kramer said. “We didn’t want to lose this game.”
The rivalry got a bit out of hand during the postgame handshakes, as the two teams got into a shoving and shouting match at midcourt. But it’s not exactly new for the two rivals, and Blair insisted it was nothing more than postgame adrenaline.
“We have to remember one thing, this is Cuesta-Hancock. This is something that happens every game,” Blair said. “But it does take away from the sportsmanship. You want to have dignity and respect when you win, you don’t trash talk and taunt. That’s not Cuesta basketball.”
Kramer finished with 21 points, and Plamen Hristov rounded out Cuesta’s double-figure scorers with 14 points.