For the first time in six years, the Cougar Holiday Classic trophy will remain home at College of the Canyons.
The COC Cougars won an up and down tournament championship Thursday over the Orange Coast College Pirates, 101-93.
Canyons (9-5) was led by tournament MVP, Andrew Henderson, who registered 22 points, eight assists, three rebounds and two steals off the bench.
The Pirates (10-4) came out with the same intensity that earned the team a 27-point win just a day earlier when they played LA Trade Tech. COC started slowly Thursday and quickly went down 11 points.
“I think they came out with great intensity,” said Cougars head coach Howard Fisher. “They play a different game and press for 40 minutes. Coach (Steve) Spencer does a great job. That’s their style of play and we weren’t ready to match their intensity. We made a couple mistakes early on and then when we did what we were supposed to do, we calmed down, we built up a nice half halftime lead and went for a little ride in the second half.”
The Cougars surged midway through the first half and took control of the game. Canyons started consistently breaking through the OCC press and swung a double-digit deficit into as much as a 19-point lead.
“I think (the Cougars recognized) that what we’re asking them to do against that in that type of situation worked when they executed,” Fisher said. “Then unfortunately, we forgot what got us there in the second half and the wheels came off a little bit — but we came up.”
COC maintained its comfortable lead thanks to a dominant discrepancy on the boards. Canyons utilized a size advantage and outrebounded its opponent 50 to 26. Cougars forward Jonah El-Farra pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds while adding 15 points to notch another double-double.
The Pirates faced a size disadvantage and a deep hole to dig themselves out of, but they chipped away at COC’s lead.
OCC’s press led to 25 Cougar turnovers in the game. The Pirates capitalized on those opportunities as the steals and turnovers led to transition buckets.
Orange guard Jydon Hall finished with game-highs of 28 points and five steals. However, Logen Howard would be the biggest difference in the second half. Howard finished the first half with just three points but racked up 15 points while going three of five from behind the arc in the second.
The Pirates were closing in on a one-possession game but self-inflicted wounds would allow the COC lead to linger. Orange would foul on three straight possessions late in the game sending the Cougars into the bonus.
OCC had all the momentum but Canyons showed poise at the free throw line to close out the game. Henderson would lead the Cougars, making 12 of 14 from behind the charity stripe.
“My confidence is boosted a lot more and I’m back in my groove now,” Henderson said. “For the last couple of games, I’ve been off a lot so it kind of knocked down my confidence, but this most definitely boosted it a little bit.”
Canyons would find some luck in near-full court passes to inbound, going up and over the Pirate press. Orange was able to pick off a handful of the heaves but gave up too many layups to get back in front.
COC went onto win its own Holiday Classic as the squad’s win streak now hits five games.
Sophomore Dylan Griffin was also awarded with All-Tournament honors along with OCC’s Hall.
The Cougars are on the verge of their biggest win streak in six seasons, but will have to continue to earn it in conference play.
“Yesterday and today, what we talked about was prepping for conference play,” Fisher said Thursday. “Every game in our conference, historically, has been a grind. So hopefully, they understand what needs to be done in practice and in preparation for conference play next week.”
Canyons will return to its home floor on Wednesday to open up Western State Conference play against LA Valley. The Cougars will look to keep piling on wins in hopes of winning their first conference title in 10 years.