It wasn’t the typical high-scoring hijinks seen for games so far involving state and national No. 1 Chino Hills, but the play of its two freshmen starters may have been the difference in a 71-67 triumph vs. state No. 2 Bishop Montgomery of Torrance in Saturday night’s Fairfax State Preview. The Knights may get two more cracks, however, to end No. 1 in nation hopes for the Huskies.
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Despite Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year frontrunner Lonzo Ball having the worst night of shooting probably in his life, the state No. 1 Chino Hills boys basketball team proved it can find multiple methods toward beating a quality opponent during a 71-67 victory over state No. 2 Bishop Montgomery of Torrance before a sold-out crowd at Cerritos College in the feature game of the Fairfax State Preview event.
Ball could only make two of 21 shots from floor, but like the former Mr. Basketball from California (Jason Kidd) that he’s compared to the most, he doesn’t have to score to be successful. He had 12 rebounds and 10 assists to go with five points.
With 6:23 left in the game, Bishop Montgomery seemed on the verge of pulling out the historic win as a basket by David Singleton gave the previously unbeaten Knights (21-1) a 60-52 lead.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by La’Melo Ball and Li’Angelo Ball helped get the lead back down to four, however, and set the stage for the Huskies (22-0) to take control down the stretch. They grabbed a 66-64 lead with 1:54 left on a basket by 6-foot-4 junior Eli Scott and then the lead grew to 68-64 with 1:02 left thanks to a basket by Onyeka Okongwu.
La’Melo Ball and Okongwu, the team’s two freshmen starters, also weren’t done yet. Okongwu got a piece of a shot with less than 20 seconds left that could have cut the lead to one while La’Melo made two more free throws with 11 seconds left and finished making 3-of-4 from the line to seal the deal.
For the game, Okongwu used his 6-foot-9 frame and ever-improving strength to block seven shots and also had 10 points and seven rebounds. La’Melo wasn’t the leading scorer for the Huskies but a freshman scoring 18 in a game of this magnitude is hard to believe.
Li’Angelo Ball also picked up the slack for Lonzo and had 22 points while Scott finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds.
“We just wanted to get everything we could from everybody,” Li’Angelo told the BallisLife.com livestream audience. “Me and Zo had to bring everybody together. We had to do whatever we could to get the win.”
Bishop Montgomery’s upset bid was fueled by its sensational backcourt combo of Singleton, a standout sophomore, and junior Ethan Thompson. Singleton hit a buzzer-beating shot to end the first quarter and finished with a team-high 22 points. Thompson, the younger brother of 2015 All-State First Teamer Stephen Thompson Jr., had 17 points and guarded Lonzo Ball for most of the game.
Junior standout Jordan Schakel also had 19 points for the Knights and did that despite encountering some foul trouble.
BIG PICTURE BREAKDOWN
With the win and looking at what’s left for the rest of Chino Hills’ regular season schedule, the team should be unbeaten and still No. 1 heading into the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs. Bishop Montgomery, the defending champion of that division, certainly was close enough so that it would be a shock if it wasn’t seeded No. 2 in those playoffs provided the Knights don’t lose again. It’s already known as well that Bishop Montgomery is going to stay No. 2 in the next Cal-Hi Sports State Top 20 Rankings.
And if the two play in the CIFSS Open Division final, they’d also perhaps meet again two weeks after that in the CIF Southern California Open Division championship.
The ultimate scenario, as far as the CIF state office would be concerned, would be to have the unbeaten Chino Hills boys going for No. 1 in the nation immediately after the unbeaten St. Mary’s of Stockton girls try to do the same in the CIF Open Division state finals on March 29 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
Can Chino Hills lose in the CIFSS Open Division final and still finish No. 1 in the nation? Quick answer is yes, but probably would require an avenging win in two weeks over the team it lost to plus a loss by Oak Hill Academy of Virginia and having Montverde Academy of Florida win at the end in the Dick’s National tournament in New York. Then the Huskies’ head-to-head win over that team in Florida would become the difference.
And how will the Ball brothers and their teammates avoid getting too excited about all of those possibilities?
“We just come out and play hard every game,” Li’Angelo Ball told Cal-Hi Sports basketball editor Ronnie Flores, who was the Ballislife.com analyst for Saturday’s game. “That’s how we’re going to stay focused.”