Friday, January 20, 2012
Muir stuns rival Pasadena, 64-60
By Blair Angulo
PASADENA -- There's a new force in the Rose City.
Muir beat rival Pasadena for the first time in more than a decade Friday night, 64-60, and grabbed the top spot in the Pacific League. When the final buzzer sounded, visiting Muir fans stormed the court at Pasadena's Tom Hamilton Gym.
A frantic altercation soon followed: Pasadena's Brandon Jolley suffered a cut on his hand while going after Muir's Jelani Mitchell, bloodying the walls in the hallway leading into the locker rooms. Police were called in to clear the area, and cooler heads prevailed. Muir players were escorted by police from the locker room to their bus in the parking lot, where a large crowd still remained about a half hour following the game's conclusion.
"This is tremendous," Mitchell said before the altercation. "Pasadena has been the best team in this league for a long time. We beat them. And we beat them at their house."
Mitchell sank two clutch free throws with seven seconds remaining to put Muir (18-1, 7-0 Pacific) up by four. Pasadena missed a jumper at the other end, the final seconds ticked off the clock and the drought was over. Half of the gym erupted.
"I'm really excited for the guys and happy for the program," Muir coach Gamal Smalley said. "It's a big hurdle but now we have the rest of the race. I told the guys it's only one game. As much as we're happy and celebratory, we have to now stay focused. To turn the corner as a program, consistency is a major issue."
Pasadena (13-6, 6-1) has claimed the league title nine straight years, but that streak is now in serious jeopardy. Muir's lone loss came against two-loss Village Christian in the championship game of the La Salle/Temple City Tournament.
Muir's Tevin Polk scored a team-high 16 points off the bench, though he is normally a starter. Smalley's game plan to use Polk in a substitute role worked. Jolley had 16 for Pasadena and coach Tim Tucker said his hand injury was not serious.
"He doesn't like to lose," Tucker said of Jolley.
Pasadena had a chance to tie or take the lead following a steal of an in-bounds pass in the dizzying final seconds, but John Hayward missed a layup and Ajon Efferson was whistled for traveling in the paint.
"That's a young point guard," Tucker said. "He has to get better at that. We didn't manage the court well at the end."
Muir led 28-21 at halftime after holding Pasadena to just four points in the second quarter. And, really, the Mustangs’ lead could have been larger had they not missed eight of 11 free throws.
The gym was filled to the 1,150 capacity well before tip-off, and fans without tickets were turned away at the entrance. Each school was allotted 400 pre-sale tickets during the week but that clearly wasn't enough.
Round two promises to be just as thrilling. The rivals meet again in the regular-season finale on Feb. 9 at Muir.
"This Mustang team is pretty resilient," Smalley said. "They're determined to hang in there and play tough basketball."
Blair Angulo covers preps for ESPN Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.