With third place in the 53rd annual Holiday Classic on the line for his Hancock College team Saturday, Devin Davis took two free throws with host Hancock down by one against Palomar College with 4.6 seconds left.
He had his doubts about the first foul shot on the double bonus, but it caromed softly off the backboard and into the net after hitting the right rim. There was no doubt about the second one. It barely grazed the back rim as it went into the net.
After Davis made the second foul shot, Palomar's Jackson Strong missed a fade away 3-point try from the right side as time ran out, and Hancock had a 75-74 win in the third-place game at Joe White Memorial Gymnasium.
"Man, that first one. I wasn't sure," it was going in, Davis said afterward.
"The second one felt good. I've been doing well on free throws. Coach (Tyson Aye) always has us shoot 50 free throws in practice."
Merritt College defeated Hancock's Western State Conference rival, Cuesta, 74-59 in the tournament championship game. Bakersfield College downed Chabot College 77-67 for the consolation championship.
Strong went 9-for-16 from the field, including 6-for-12 on 3-pointers, and led all scorers with 31 points but he couldn't get his difficult last ditch shot to go down.
After the shot missed, Strong looked plaintively at the officials as if to say, "How about a foul call?" None was forthcoming.
There WAS a critical blocking call against 6-foot-8 Palomar center Matt Meyers in the lane. That was the call that put Davis at the free throw line with 4.6 seconds left.
Aye likely thought such a call was overdue.
In fact he was tagged with a technical foul at the 18:08 mark of the second half because "(Meyers) was getting away with everything," Aye said. The Hancock coach was 'T'd up after arguing a foul call on the Bulldogs.
"Any time (one of our players) did anything physical on him, something would get called," Aye said. "He's a great player, but nothing would be called on him. I felt it was time to make a point."
Strong sank both technical foul shots to put the Comets ahead 44-40. They also got possession of the ball, but Strong missed a subsequent 3-point shot.
Both teams went into the game 9-6, and, though Palomar scored the first eight points, most of the game was as tight as the teams' identical records indicated it would be.
Hancock erased Palomar's margin after the Comets scored those first eight points and overcame another eight-point margin to take a 38-37 halftime lead.
The teams spent a lot of time trading baskets, but the Bulldogs did forge a 69-63 lead with 3:23 left. Matt Beeler hit a 3-point shot for the Comets, Strong buried another and the game was quickly tied again, at 69-all.
Mayowa Akinsanya made the second of two foul shots at the 1:38 mark to put Hancock ahead 70-69. After Strong and Hancock's Javae Lampkins traded 3-point baskets, the burly Meyers, who gave the Bulldogs a lot of trouble inside, missed a shot inside after laboring to get around Hancock's Shemarr Parker, who is 6-4 and was one of the few Bulldogs who could match up in bulk against Meyers.
With the Bulldogs up 73-72 and trying to set up for a shot, Corday Fairley made a steal for Palomar. He was fouled and shaken up with 10.5 seconds left, but he buried his two free throws for his only points of the game to put the Comets ahead 74-73.
The Bulldogs eventually worked the ball into the lane, and Davis drew the critical foul on Meyers.
Lampkins finished with 20 points. Point guard Shane Carney scored 15 points for the Bulldogs, and Spirit Ricks had 11. Ricks also pulled down eight rebounds,
Meyers put in 18 points and snared a game high 12 rebounds for the Comets. Jamario Harris scored 10 points.
"They're a good team," said Davis. "This was a good team win."
Aye said, "They're a class program, very well-coached. I coached against them at my old school (Imperial Valley College). We were in the same conference.
"I talked before about our team's resiliency. To win a game like this after losing the way we did last night (69-67 to Merritt College on an Isiah Davis basket with three seconds left in the championship semifinals) was a testament to that resiliency.
"We're going in the right direction."
The Bulldogs have won four of their last five. They will play in the Cuesta Tournament Jan. 5-7.
Deon Stewart of Merritt was the tournament MVP. Davis joined him on the All-Tournament Team. The rest of the all-tourney team consisted of Carney, Cuesta's Noah Saunders and Joge Bueno, and Tucker Eenigenburg of Stockdale.
Merritt 74, Cuesta 59
The Cougars trimmed what had been a 19-point lead to 70-59 when Bueno nailed a 3-point shot with 1:49 left, but the Cougars came up empty on all four of their last possessions afterward.
Steward poured in 25 points for the Thunderbirds. Karim Helali added 13. Saunders scored a game-high 29 points for Cuesta, and Nico Gonzalez added 10.
Bakersfield 77, Chabot 67
Jamar Hammonds tossed in a game high 25 points, and the Renegades took the consolation title.
Jaylunn English put in 21 points for Bakersfield, and Eenigenburg added 18.
Jordan Gilmente led Chabot with 14 points, and Devin Smith had 12.
The Gladiators came in to the tournament with one win, but they gave Hancock a scare in the first round before the Bulldogs ultimately won 71-66 and then edged Los Angeles Southwest College 98-97 to reach the consolation championship game.