Julio Lara/Daily Journal
Ben Ujihara drives to the basket during
San Mateo’s 53-51 win over Hillsdale.
It’s only fitting that in a season full of ups and downs, the ending to the latest chapter in the San Mateo boys’ basketball season mirrored the year as a whole.
We’ll call it, chaotic.
With 4:14 left in the game, the reigning Daily Journal Athlete of Week, Hillsdale’s Brian Houle, stepped to the free throw line and sunk two freebies to give the Knights their first lead since late in the second quarter.
And it appeared that the heavily-favored Hillsdale, after being down by as many as eight points at a couple of points during the game, had found a way to outlast the rival Bearcats and send the San Mateo fans home disappointed.
But that wasn’t the case. The last four minutes of Friday’s contest produced eight lead changes and it took a Brandon Wong free throw with 23 seconds left in the the game to help San Mateo secure the 53-51 win — only the second favorable outcome for the Bearcats thus far in Peninsula Athletic League play.
“We just needed to calm down,” said San Mateo head coach Julian Hudson about the frantic four minutes that ended the game. “We executed what we wanted to do and didn’t panic.”
It truly was a test of nerves for most of the game for the Bearcats. Those four minutes aside, San Mateo had to withstand multiple Hillsdale comebacks — most of which were fueled by Houle, who finished with a game-high 25 points.
“I just wanted to make sure we got good shots,” Hudson said. “When we execute, we do fine because I do think we have some great shooters on the team.”
Those shooters stepped up for San Mateo in a crucial swing late in the first quarter. After Ryan Nunne carried the bulk of Hillsdale’s offensive load to begin the game, a Kevin Attard 3-pointer tied the game at 11 and that was followed by a a Wong bomb to give San Mateo its second lead of the game.
The Bearcats got up by as many as eight when Paolo Maramba charged a long distance call to the Knights’ tab with 5:47 left in the second quarter.
But that’s when Houle, who was blanked in the first quarter, caught fire for the first time. He knocked in seven straight points to help the Knights keep pace and ultimately regain the lead at 25-24. It’s with time winding down in the half that San Mateo showed Hillsdale they weren’t intimated by the better record. Alex Mostafavi lined up a 3-pointer and knocked it down to give the Bearcats a 27-25 lead at recess.
A small burst to start the third quarter helped San Mateo rebuild a lead. They got it to six midway through the frame and up to as many as eight after a pair of Wong free throws.
The San Mateo guard was huge throughout the game. He finished with 19 points — perhaps none bigger than the two he scored after a steal to begin the fourth quarter. Sure, Wong’s free throw at the end of the game were margin-of-victory points. But that steal and layup lit up the San Mateo gymnasium to start the pivotal fourth quarter. And it was that fuel that carried San Mateo the rest of the way.
The Knights charged back behind Houle (who scored seven of his 25 in the fourth) and Andre Fontenot — it was his put back that got the Knights to within one with four minutes and change left in the game.
It was after that, when in the penalty, that Houle got to the line and sunk his shots to make it 45-44 Hillsdale.
So, back and forth the two rivals went and it was a Mostafavi leaner and a Derek Kawahara jumper that kept San Mateo from totally imploding.
The loss drops Hillsdale to 6-2 on in PAL South play and will force its hand next week when they battle first-place Burlingame. A win by the Panthers next week against the Knights and the Panthers would have a stranglehold on the division title.