CHICO — Even when the Chico High boys basketball team jumped out to a six-point halftime lead over Foothill, controlling the lead from the get-go Tuesday night, it was a matter of when, not if, the Cougars would mount a comeback.
Foothill tied the game at 33-all midway through the third quarter on a Josiah Palumbo pull-up 3-pointer, then took its first lead of the game when Luke Lindsey scored on a layup. The Cougars led 36-33 entering the fourth with momentum on their side.
But the Panthers, coming off a big win the prior Friday over Pleasant Valley, showed another layer of dogged determination in the final minutes, during a season that their mettle has been tested time and again.
Quentin Thomas made a pair of free throws with eight seconds left, putting Chico ahead 48-46. As Foothill’s Luke Lindsey crossed midcourt, looking to attack the middle, Thomas jarred the ball loose and Matt James grabbed control of it before flipping to Thomas to seal the game.
After losing to Foothill (23-4, 7-2 Eastern Athletic League) and PV on their first go-around, the Panthers (16-8, 7-2 EAL) have since defeated both of them in the last five days. The latest one, against the juggernaut that is Foothill, puts Chico in contention for a league title with one regular-season game left.
“That was great — almost a repeat of the PV game,” Thomas said. “Losing the first one, and then having that motivation to come back and beat them. And it happened.”
The Panthers made 8-of-9 free throws in the final quarter, including the last two from Thomas, which were only his second and third points of the game.
“Credit to the guys … That’s a mental toughness thing,” Chico head coach Abraham Simmons said. “They were very mentally tough in the end. What a great finish.”
Foothill’s Bekdoo Lewis gave the Cougars a 44-40 lead with three minutes left, but fouled out less than a minute later defending James, who made a pair of free throws in the bonus. Lewis had 10 points for Foothill, and Palumbo had a game-high 18 points.
Then after Foothill missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Marvelous Owens grabbed an offensive rebound with 1 minute, 30 seconds to go and was fouled on the way up. He also made both free throw attempts to knot the game at 44-all.
On Chico’s next possession, Jasten Del Carlo was fouled while receiving an entry pass in the post, and went 2-of-2 from the line to give Chico a 46-44 advantage. Foothill countered with a Brandon McCracken offensive rebound and putback with 32 seconds left, bringing the game back to a 46-46 tie.
The time left on the clock allowed the Panthers to wind it down, until Thomas drove the lane with eight seconds left and was fouled as he looked to pass out to the corner.
“Knowing I had to knock them down to give us a chance, and even we didn’t we could still get a stop and send it to overtime,” Thomas said, describing the final sequence.
The Panthers took a quick, 6-0 lead less than two minutes into the game on scores from Owens, Del Carlo and Stephen Schaefer. They held Foothill to just two field goals in the quarter, with a combination of backcourt pressure and double teams in the halfcourt.
They led by as many as 10 points in the second quarter with a Del Carlo layup. Schaefer led Chico with 14 points and Del Carlo added 12.
“For us, defense brings us into offense,” Schaefer said. “Just trying to force turnovers, just running at them, just being aggressive, because they’re a really solid team. Us being super aggressive, trying to force turnovers, that was our best chance to win the game and it paid off.”
Foothill * 8 * 14 * 14 * 10 * — * 46
Chico * 13 * 15 * 5 * 15 * — * 48
Foothill — McCracken 6, Palumbo 18, Lindsey 9, Lewis 10, Edwards 3.
Chico — Owens 9, Padilla 6, James 4, Thomas 3, Del Carlo 12, Schaefer 14.
3-point goals — Foothill 6 (Palumbo 3, Edwards, Lewis 2), Chico 4 (Padilla 2, Schaefer 2)
Foothill 7-2, 23-4
Chico 7-2, 16-8
Pleasant Valley 6-3, 16-11
Shasta 3-6, 16-11
Enterprise 2-6, 13-12
Red Bluff 1-7, 5-20
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