College of the Canyons men’s basketball was knocked back into the loss column after dropping the Cougar Holiday Classic championship game to the Mount San Antonio College Mounties on Friday.
Mt. SAC caught fire from behind the arc while several Mounties showed their dominance in the paint as the team strolled to an 87-64 victory in the Cougar Holiday Classic.
COC (6-7) came out of the gates hot and nearly took a double-digit lead in the first half before the Mt. SAC offense exploded on a 16-0 run to pull away early and snapped the Cougars’ three-game win streak.
The Mounties (11-1) shot nearly 60% from behind the arc and were led at the perimeter by sophomore guard Dane Victor, who hit all three of his 3-point attempts and finished with 11 points and a pair of assists off the bench.
Sophomore guard Nick Hopkins earned tournament MVP honors after his work in the interior. Hopkins shot 7-for-9, mostly inside the paint, to add a game-high 16 points as well as five rebounds and a steal. Hopkins was one of five Mounties in double figures.
Mikah Gardner added 15 points, with a pair of 3-pointers, while interior force CJ Fisher added 12 points.
COC led by as much as nine midway through the first half but some early foul trouble snowballed into major problems as Mt. SAC found its rhythm.
“I think we did come out with good energy and we made shots,” said Canyons coach Howard Fisher. “Then we got into some foul trouble and we weren’t making baskets when we needed to. We became less efficient.”
The loss was Fisher’s first loss to his former assistant coach, now Mt. SAC head coach, Mike Fenison. It was just the second time the two had gone head to head, as the series is tied 1-1 with the two coaches who have nothing but respect for one another.
“I have so many great memories here and I love playing here,” Fenison said. “Howard’s my guy. He does a great job over there, the kids are playing hard for him. Once he gets everybody healthy, they’re going to be a problem. They have a really good team.”
Rebounding had been Canyons’ recipe for success that had led to the team’s three-game win streak coming into Friday’s contest. The team found itself on the wrong side of a rebound disparity for the first time in several games.
“I’m going to give them a lot of credit out there,” Fisher said. “They’re coached by one of my best friends and former assistant. They just played really well. They out-rebounded us by a significant margin, which has been our strong suit. We’ve out-rebounded everybody we’ve played.”
The Mounties won the battle on the boards with 33 rebounds to the Cougars’ 18. Six-foot, 9-inch forward Michael Ejumeta led Mt. SAC with seven rebounds.
COC rebounding machine Jonah El-Farra was limited to a team-high four rebounds in the championship game. El-Farra entered the matchup with double-digit rebounding performances in five of his last six outings.
Canyons was led by Deshawn Herold and Jacob Gonzalez with 10 points apiece. Herold also added a pair of steals and two rebounds. The team’s leading scorer Joshua Barnett had an off night, finishing just 3-for-17 from the floor.
The Cougars opened up the tournament with a win over the Los Angeles Trade Tech Beavers on Thursday. COC led by 18 points at halftime before LATT stormed back into the game through solid defense and improved rebounding that was lacking in the first half.
The Beavers gutted the Cougars’ lead but, every time Trade Tech made a big play in striking distance, Canyons answered.
El-Farra was one of four COC starters in double figures and led with game highs in 23 points and 17 rebounds, and registered the double-double before halftime.
Raz Orbach added 13 points and five rebounds in the win over Trade Tech and earned all-tournament honors for Canyons.
LATT rode an 11-0 run to get back into the game and briefly took the lead late in the game. COC found an answer for every LATT bucket, keeping the Beavers at bay.
Mt. SAC advanced to the finals after a 91-85 win over Orange Coast College. Hopkins was electric against Orange, finishing with 27 points and seven rebounds. The Mounties out-rebounded the Pirates, 41-26.
“We work hard on defense,” Fenison said. “Our kids are working with each other. We’re trying to do a much better job on communicating so we can rotate a little bit better. Offensively, we will have to get better at some things but defensively when we put our mind to it, we’re pretty tough to beat.”
Canyons will look to get back to its dominant rebounding ways with just one more non-conference outing before entering Western State Conference action. The Cougars head to San Luis Obispo to face Cuesta College on Wednesday.