The Cuesta College men’s basketball team faced another top-10 team Sunday in the championship game of the Neil Edwards Classic at Citrus College, and again came up a little short.
The Cougars fell behind by 12 points at halftime to eighth-ranked East Los Angeles, and trailed by 20 early in the second half. Coach Rusty Blair then switched to a full-court press, fueling a Cuesta rally, but the Cougars ultimately came up short in an 85-80 loss.
Cuesta cut the lead to 2 points with 30 seconds remaining, and after fouling on the next possession, got the ball back down by three. Daniel Solis missed a contested 3-pointer with four seconds to go, sealing the Cougars’ fate.
“If that would have went down, last possession, it would have put us in overtime against a very tough foe,” Blair said.
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Karem Ozel led Cuesta (6-3) with 33 points, shooting 11 of 18 from the field, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range. Ozel was named to the all-tournament team.
“He had a really outstanding performance, really shot the ball well,” Blair said. “He kept us in the game.”
The Cougars fell to 1-3 against top 10 teams this season.
“It was a good tournament for us, we won two games,” Blair said. “We’re happy with that, but we feel this year’s team needs to go a step further and beat these top teams in the state. For us to break into the top 10, we have to win those games.”
Richard Bivens led East Los Angeles (6-0) with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Rafail Eleftheriou had 13 points and six rebounds, and Roberto Mantovani added 10 points and seven rebounds for Cuesta, which heads to the Grossmont Tournament. The Cougars begin play Friday against San Diego City College.