It was supposed to be a prime matchup. McClintock, undefeated and #1 in 4A, and Mesa, 6-2 and #7 in 5A for the championship of the Horizon Invitational. McClintock's Jermaine Calvin and Gabe Freeman have already committed to Utah and Southern Utah respectively, and Mesa's Lee Cummard gave BYU a verbal. It was going to be a great game.
And then it began.
McClintock was shell-shocked as Mesa jumped out in front with a 7-0 run to start things off, and it was over by the end of the first period as Mesa led 26-10. McClintock pulled within eight mid way through the second quarter, but Mesa built it back up to a sixteen-point advantage by half time and the Chargers would never get close again.
All Tournament selection Matt Komenda broke down the game in one word.
"Intensity. We came out and crashed the boards, played strong, and that was the difference." Komenda was on fire, scoring eight of Mesa's first 12 points and establishing himself as a dominant inside presence.
It was also the welcome back party for Mesa's Graham Hatch. Though Hatch is still coming off the bench as he works himself back into game shape after injury, the Jackrabbits are already a different team when he is on the floor.
For one thing, they are big.
Mesa's typical lineup is Travis LeBaron (6'2), Hatch (6'4), Cummard (6'7), Michael Crowell (6'6"), and Komenda (6'5"). No, there isn't a seven footer there, but LeBaron is at least as big as most point guards, and Hatch plays like a power forward, even though he's got a 2 guard's ball handling, quickness, and long range shooting.
This was a major problem for McClintock Saturday, as their lineup went 5'8", 5'9", 5'9", 6'5", 6'5". The matchup problems were obvious. For a stretch in the first quarter the 5'9" point guard Calvin was guarding the 6'7" power forward Cummard.
This just wasn't going to work.
As quick as Calvin's hands are, Mesa recognized the mismatch right away and immediately sent Cummard to the post. Whenever Freeman, or center Marcus Nicholson, came over to double Komenda or Crowell were there to receive soft dimes from Cummard for easy lay-ups. In addition Freeman had it tough both ways, when he wasn't banging with Komenda, he was banging with Crowell, and when he wasn't inside he was chasing Cummard around outside. Freeman has great lateral movement, and very quick hands, but all the energy he was expending on the defensive side of the floor wasn't helping him on the offensive end where Komenda was his primary defender. Freeman finished with 15, but shot only 27% from the floor.
And the size inside also helped neutralize the explosive Calvin, who finished with only eight points. Even though Calvin could penetrate almost at will, with so many long arms inside he was having difficulty finishing and the outside shot wasn't falling. Meanwhile his counterpart, LeBaron, shot the ball five times, and hit five shots, three from behind the arc, to finish with 13.
McClintock coach Brian Fleming tried all sorts of combinations, and for awhile in the second quarter it appeared he might have found the defensive answer in Leonard Lighten who came on to play tough, body to body defense that momentarily frustrated Cummard. With Lighten on Cummard, Freeman moved to Crowell, and Calvin was able to put more pressure on LeBaron.
But Mesa is not a one-man team.
In fact on this night it was Komenda, and not Cummard who led all scorers with 20. His best came on a 14-foot fall away over Nicholson that kissed the glass but never the rim.
At the half it was 48-32, by the end of the third the lead had grown to 21, and the final was Mesa 77, McClintock 53.
Afterward Cummard (19 pts, 6 rebounds, 8 assists) was named the tournament MVP and he talked about what a difference Hatch makes to this team.
"He's everything to this team. His intensity, rebounding, his defense. You saw us when he wasn't here."
Cummard is talking about Mesa's loss to Marcos de Niza, a loss which found them getting out rebounded, out hustled, and making poor decisions in crunch time. Komenda (20pts 13 boards, 4/4 FTs) went further.
"Even in practice, (Hatch) just brings the intensity level up. It's great having him back."
While having him back is great for Mesa, in the long run his injury might actually help this team. Keith Jackson has stepped up in his place and even after Hatch returns to the starting lineup, Jackson can now be counted on as a valuable contributor, having dealt with game situations in a starting role.
The win, which won't affect Mesa's power point ranking because McClintock is 4A, should still move them up in this week's polls. As dominant a win as it was, it might start the ball rolling for Mesa's run toward state.