It started about as far from what I would have predicted as possible. Marcos de Niza opened the game with an 11-0 run. This was not going to go to plan. This battle of two top 10 5A teams was supposed to be where Lee Cummard rose head and shoulders above the talented Duboise Williams and asserted himself as the top player in the state. But then there was that 11-0 run, highlighted by a Duboise Williams three from somewhere between Mill Ave. and Priest.
What was going on here?
Nothing was pretty in this one. The refs let them play, calling a horrible game on both sides but ultimately missing almost exactly the same number of calls for both teams. The big glaring absence wasn't Marcos' Kenny Ray Washington (who didn't start but did log considerable minutes, especially down the stretch), but Graham Hatch, Mesa's third option, who has been sidelined with injury. Turnovers kept Mesa in the game, free throw shooting ultimately did them in, and Marcos prevailed, 57-56.
Outside of Williams Marcos throws a young, hungry team on the floor. PG Kal Bay, forward Michael Broom, and center Washington are all sophomores, and at times during the game their youth showed in ways both good and bad. Bay finished with 13 points and 9 assists, but turned the ball over six times, twice in the last minute of play. Broom had three pretty moves down low to show why he might be the best sophomore post player in the state, but those three moves accounted for all six of his points, and at times he seemed to disappear. Washington is still obviously trying to find his place in the Marcos offensive scheme and looked more comfortable on the defensive end of the floor than near his own basket.
On the other end of the floor the loss of Hatch has shown a real chink in Mesa's armor. PrepAZ ranked Mesa #2 during the preseason, but until Hatch comes back this team might fall out of the top 10. The reason? Outside of Cummard, it looks as if no one wants to shoot the ball. Early on Matt Komenda tried to shoulder some of the load, but as hard as Komenda worked, the long arms and lower body strength of Marcos center Joseph Ayodele kept Komenda off balance and out of rhythm and the shots weren't falling. Mesa's Travis LeBaron looked uncomfortable even when open, and several other Mesa players literally weren't even looking at the basket when they received the ball.
This left it all up to Cummard, who finished with 20, but at times seemed to be playing one on five offensively.
Mesa battled back from the early deficit, showing signs of life after Williams picked up his second foul and a seat on the bench with just over 2:00 remaining in the quarter. They closed to six by the end of the 1st and kept on rolling in the second as the shots temporarily stopped falling for Marcos. At the 4:35 mark in the 2nd Cummard stole a pass intended for Williams, fired the ball to Komenda who missed the layup but got it back and gave Mesa their first lead 25-24. There was a momentum change, visible on the faces of Marcos' players, but Williams did what senior leaders do burying a long three from the wing and sparking an 8-0 run. As Mesa began battling back Cummard was scratched and forced to leave the game temporarily because of blood. With Cummard out Marcos held the lead going into the half, 32-30.
The second half was where things started getting, as Morpheus would say, "A little weird."
Mesa was awarded a jump ball even though when Washington mishandled a pass no Mesa player even touched the ball. On the their next possession Marcos, who's playbook seemed to consist of a maximum of one pass followed by a shot from virtually anywhere on the court, gave up the ball after LeBaron ran over Bay and no foul was called.
As if to signify that the refs weren't biased, but simply ignorant, Cummard was nearly pulled out of his jersey by Williams on a back pick, but no call was made. To reaffirm that they weren't biased, they then called a technical foul on Cummard when he protested the no call.
The third ended with Marcos leading 45-42, and the fourth quarter was set up to be a hard fought battle. Instead it turned into a comedy of errors. With about three and a half to go, and a lead of only four, Marcos went to a stalling weave tactic, interrupted only when Williams drove to the left elbow and missed a jumper with two men on him. After a Mesa miss by Mike Crowell Marcos again went to a stall, but as Bay looked toward the ref checking for a five second count that hadn't even begun Mesa's Jackson stole the ball and laid it in to cut the lead to two. Baskets were traded until the Cummard was fouled with just over two minutes to play. The basket went, as did the free throw and the lead was one.
With a minute left to play Marcos led 55-54. Williams drove the lane but Crowell drew the offensive foul, and Mesa took a time-out. Crowell's follow ten seconds later gave Mesa the lead but the biggest of Broom's three buckets gave Marcos the lead right back.
And then the coach's lost their minds.
After Cummard lost the ball out of bounds Marcos had the lead, the ball, and two time outs with just thirteen seconds left. Instead of taking a time-out Williams tried to force a lob pass that sailed out of bounds without being touched. Cummard drove and had the ball slapped away with four seconds left. Despite the bevy of well run offensive sets and out of bounds plays that Mesa had been running all night, Coach Lynch tried to lob the ball over the 6'6" Williams into the center of the paint for Cummard. Williams and Cummard came down with the ball together and a jump ball was called. Mesa retained possession but with only two seconds left Cummard was unable to get a shot off before the final buzzer, giving Marcos the one point victory, 57-56.
The play of the night was Duboise Williams' baseline drive and reverse on Cummard.
Both Williams and Cummard finished with 20 points and were their team's leading scorers.
While Joseph Ayodele's offensive moves are getting better, his defense is still top notch and his nose for the ball on the boards is a huge asset to Marcos.
Mesa's offensive sets were generally crisp and effective, except no one would shoot the ball, leaving Cummard and Komenda to repeatedly force shots.
There really aren't enough balls for Marcos de Niza to play with. When they send a lineup of Bay, Williams, Broom, Washington and Ayodele on the court together, every one of the five players can score, but typically a maximum of two will touch the ball before a shot is taken.
Travis LeBaron is going to have to accept the role of the third scorer quickly in Graham Hatch's absence, or Mesa will continue to struggle.
Kenny Ray Washington, while not an offensive force for Marcos, was notable for his incredible hustle both on the boards and on the defensive end.
Neither team played anywhere close to their potential, but one gets the feeling the ceiling is higher for the young guns at Marcos.
Lee Cummard is obviously not real happy when play gets physical, many games his performance will depend quite a lot on whether the game is called closely or not.
A special thanks to Afton Stephens, the phenomenal Marcos scorekeeper. She wasn't mean to me, and it takes a lot for a person not to be mean to me when I'm standing over their shoulder while they are doing math.