Canyon Cowboys boys’ basketball has gone full throttle through every game this season.
The Cowboys have played with intensity and high energy all year, but on Tuesday, carried that mantra into overtime for the first time this season. Canyon never took its foot off of the gas and won the overtime battle, 60-54, over the visiting Hart Indians.
Hart (12-8, 3-3) nearly went up by double digits after a strong outing in the third quarter, but Canyon found an answer late in the game.
For Cowboys coach Ali Monfared, it was all about getting back to the basics.
“We just looked to skip the ball and get easier shots where we were forcing everything the first few quarters,” Monfared said. “I think we wanted to make the play so bad that we were rushing and forcing it, not screening. I’m so proud. In my mind, we won this game tonight on heart, not on execution. I think that’s the most encouraging thing is we can still continue to fix all those X’s and O’s tendencies. We’re playing with the heart and competitive spirit that we need to compete.
The teams exchanged blow after blow before Hart senior Gavin Heredia hit a huge 3-ball that gave Hart the lead with 4.3 seconds left in regulation.
The root of the team’s high energy stems from multiple players, including junior point guard Solomon Sims. The junior forced overtime after making a free throw in the midst of the loudest away section Canyon has dealt with all season.
“My teammates and I, we just have a belief in each other,” Sims said. “We trust each other on defense. We’re all energized and we just work very well together. That pushes me to be better. I don’t want to let down any of my teammates.”
Sims added 13 points, four rebounds and four steals in the win.
Heredia played well and the Indians needed every bit of it with the Cowboys’ extra attention to Hart star point guard Deven Strong and 7-foot center Craig Irons.
Irons’ size was a tall task for the undersized Canyon front court, but Colin Kusumi and Sean Hernandez were up for it, and held the tallest player in the Foothill League to 10 points and minimal rebounds.
“There were a couple times they just dumped it down low to him and he’s playing Fisher Price against us,” Monfared said on guarding the 7-footer. “We have to box out, be physical and utilize our speed, otherwise if we don’t utilize our advantages against a guy with size like that, he can get easy layups time and time again.”
Kusumi posted a game-high seven rebounds, while Hernandez added nine points scored in the post.
Canyon (12-7, 2-4) was led by fellow three-level scorer Eric Kubel, who poured in 25 points, including seven of the team’s 10 points in overtime. Kubel hit six 3-pointers on the night and has been no stranger to handling the bulk of the scoring.
Hart stumbled offensively out of the gates but slowly found its rhythm in the second quarter before an offensive explosion in the third.
Heredia has been a steady hand for Hart all season but Indians junior Ron Philips gave the team a huge boost with 12 points and a block off the bench.
“Ron hasn’t gotten as much playing time as he’d like, but he gave us some nice minutes off the bench,” said Hart coach Tom Kelly. “Gavin’s been steady all year, whether it’s scoring or distributing the ball, he’s been solid.”
Heredia added 10 points, four assists and a pair of steals for the Indians.
Hart was held without a 3-pointer in the first half. The Indians got over the hump with a solid 18-8 third quarter where everything flipped into Hart’s favor.
“We just got more player involvement and made better decisions,” Kelly said. “We just moved the ball better in the third quarter. The ball didn’t move in the first half. Whoever had it was holding on to it too long.”
The extra passing gave Strong some better looks as the guard added nine points to close out the game.
“I think Devin is absolutely one of the best players in the league,” Monfared said. “I think (Kelly) is the best coach in this league. We’re always going to come and we’re going to do our best to try to take the best player out of the game for the other team.”
Canyon has now won eight of its last nine games and will continue to embrace the small, underdog title in the second half of league play.
“I think defensively we could be so much better because there are some times where we didn’t get the stops that we needed and that forced us to go in overtime,” Sims said. “Even if we’re not making shots, that’s OK. Canyon is defense. That’s what we’ll be focused on.”
“We’re going to scare teams,” Sims added. “People underestimate us. They see that we’re unathletic and we’re undersized, but we fight and we’re ready to play at all times.”
Even in the oldest rivalry in the Santa Clarita Valley, there is nothing but respect between the two coaches at Hart and Canyon.
“I have so much respect for their coaching staff,” Monfared said. “Anytime you play Hart and find a way to win against your oldest and longest rival, it’s a great feeling. I’ve learned a lot by going against them. Every time we play them makes me a better coach and it makes us better players because they do similar things.”
Both teams have a lot to be excited for in the second half of league play with the Foothill League standings being as tight as ever. Just about every game will be treated as a must-win game going forward as both teams attempt to return to the postseason.
“We’re super excited. We control what we can control,” Kelly said. “The Foothill League is fun because every game’s a rivalry game.”
Both teams return home on Friday as Hart welcomes Valencia, while Canyon hosts Saugus at 6:30 p.m.