College of the Canyons men’s basketball is finding its rhythm at mid-season. The Cougars won their fourth straight game after a 77-69 win over Mt. San Antonio College Mounties on Wednesday in the 32nd annual Cougar Holiday Classic.
COC (8-5) had an offensive explosion from sophomore Andrew Henderson, who poured in 27 points off the bench. Henderson outscored the Mounties bench by 20 while also adding eight rebounds, a steal and one block against Mt. Sac (7-7).
The game started off slow with each team turning over the ball on their opening possessions. Both teams also had a handful of open looks that were well off target.
Canyons’ defense powered the team through the game, giving the offense time to get going. The team didn’t allow a Mounties’ score until nearly four minutes into the game.
“I think we had some good rebounds and outlets on our fast breaks,” said Cougars head coach Howard Fisher. “That’s where I think we opened up the runs that started on the defensive side.”
A huge part of COC’s defensive performance was guard Dylan Griffin, a tenacious defender and captain for Canyons. Griffin only came up with one steal on the game but he was able to draw three offensive foul calls along with five points, five assists and five rebounds.
“I do it because I like to compete,” said Griffin. “So, if I can get somebody’s head, I can compete with that person the whole game. I’ll keep the same routine the whole game to keep my energy going. So I can keep it up for my team so we have energy on and off the bench.”
The Mounties managed to close the gap but would never lead in the game. COC fended off its opponents in the first half with a big 13-2 run over an eight-minute span. Tough defense and a perfect half behind the arc from Henderson led to the run in a big win the guard needed.
“This game, it was more of like ‘let me play’ because I had a lot of back-to-back bad games,” said Henderson. “So I’m more having to calm myself down, getting in the gym at night time and it just showed today.”
Mt. Sac came out of the halftime break with a new energy and looked nothing like the same team that was down 10. The first four minutes of the second half was back and forth with a combined 23 points scored, after the same opening span of the game had just six.
COC would go up 21 points but just couldn’t put the game away. Sharpshooting from the Mounties closed the gap in the final minutes but some clutch free throw shooting would be enough for Canyons’ fourth straight victory.
The team has had issues closing out games before but will take the big win over a good Mounties team.
“I feel like we need to do a better job closing out the games,” said Henderson. “If we get that situated, we’d be really a tough team to beat.”
Mt. Sac’s visit to the Cougar Cage marked the return of former Canyons’ assistant coach Mike Fenison. The Mounties’ head coach spent six years next to Fisher on the bench before taking the reins of the Mt. Sac men’s basketball program. Fenison would unfortunately have to make his homecoming trip without the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Nick Hopkins, who was out with an illness, but Fisher was nonetheless happy to compete against his protege.
“I don’t think we spoke for the last 10 days,” said Fisher. “But before that we talked pretty regularly and I think he was a little disappointed that his best player was sick today. But he knows a lot about us. He does a great job, so glad we came out with a win.”
Canyons will now play Orange Coast College (10-3) for the Cougar Classic title. Fisher hopes to see sustained energy and more ball movement in the championship game as well as throughout the rest of the season.
However, the team’s still feeling good on the win streak as they appear to be turning the corner just ahead of conference play.
“We’re gonna hit five [straight wins] tomorrow and keep pushing for when we go into league in January,” said Griffin.