Vanguard’s Cameron Nettles scored on a layup with 10 seconds left and TMC’s Anthony Cammon missed a jumper at the buzzer as the Lions rallied from a nine-point deficit in the final three minutes to stun the Mustangs 69-68 Saturday evening in Costa Mesa.
On an evening when three teams above them in the GSAC lost, the Mustangs couldn’t take advantage and lost their third game in a row, dropping to 8-6 in the GSAC and 16-9 overall. With four conference games left in the regular season, the Mustangs are in fifth place, one game out of a spot that would grant them a first-round, home game in the upcoming GSAC Tournament.
It was an especially grating loss considering that the Mustangs bolted to a huge, early lead, lost it early in the second half, regained it shortly thereafter, and looked on the way to a big road win. But, it all blew up in the last three minutes.
With 2:57 remaining, Cammon hit a pair of free throws to give the Mustangs a 66-57 lead. It capped a streak of seven straight points by the senior guard who put together a sensational all-around game with team-highs of 24 points, nine rebound, and five steals.
But, in the space of a minute, the Lions chopped the lead in more than half as Christopher Raybon’s jumper with 1:52 left made it a 67-63 game. Vanguard’s run, which eventually reached a game-ending 12-2, coincided with a span of scoreless ball for the Mustangs that reached over two minutes.
Neither team scored again until a Nettles’ charity toss at the 36-second mark sliced the deficit to 67-64. With Vanguard fouling in an attempt to regain possession, TMC’s Devin Dyer converted one of two free throws to give the Mustangs a four-point edge with 33 seconds left. It took just four seconds for the Lions to carve the deficit to one point as Christopher Kupets drained a three-pointer at the 29-second mark.
With the shot clock turned off and Vanguard looking to foul, the Mustangs gave it away on a Cammon turnover. Nettles turned the gift into points, scoring what turned out to be the game-winner at the other end and when Cammon missed at the other end, the Lions had a thrilling win and the Mustangs a heartbreaking defeat.
Defeat was the farther thing from anyone’s mind in the game’s first six minutes when the Mustangs galloped to a 13-0 lead. It was built on four points from center Paul Brown to start the game and capped by five straight points from Cammon.
The Lions finally dented the scoreboard on a Kupets’ bucket with 14:02 showing on the clock and less than five minutes later, Selle Hanne finished off a 15-4 skein that pulled the hosts to within two points (17-15).
But, in a wild swing of moods, the Mustangs answered with a 12-0 burst in a 3:08 span to regain control. Dyer started and finished the run, sandwiching a pair of baskets around a layup from Brown and two Leif Karlberg three-pointers.
Staying with the trend, the Lions took back the momentum and put together a 10-4 run over the final 4:23 of the half to close to 33-27 at the half.
The Mustangs shot a credible 48% from the field in the first half while limiting the Lions to 35% accuracy. Brown and Karlberg had eight points apiece for the Mustangs.
That six-point advantage evaporated rather quickly in the opening minutes of the second half as the Lions opened the period with a 12-2 burst, taking their largest lead of the game 39-35 at the 17:02 mark.
Just as quickly, however, the momentum shifted to the Mustangs who snapped out of a scoreless drought of nearly three minutes on a Brown layup with 15:43 left to play. That triggered a 14-4 outburst that Brown capped off with another layup over four minutes later, sending the Mustangs ahead 49-43. In between, Cammon buried a pair of three-pointers and the Mustangs held the Lions scoreless for over three minutes.
The Lions finally snapped out of it on a Taylor Kelly tip-in with 10:04 remaining but Cammon answered with a jumper and when Lance Reeves drained a three-pointer, the Mustangs had a 54-45 lead with just over nine minutes left to play.
Now, it was the Lions’ turn and over the next 3:44 they outscored the Mustangs 12-3 to pull even on a Kelly trifecta. With 4:49 left to play, Brown converted a pair of free throws to break the tie and send the Mustangs on what looked like a game-settling 9-0 run. Cammon followed his teammate’s charity tosses with seven straight points for the 66-57 advantage that appeared to be enough but wasn’t.
Cammon’s 24-point effort was forged on an 8-17 performance from the field, highlighted by a trio of three-pointers. He also converted all five of his free throw attempts. It was his seventh game of the year with 20 or more points. Meanwhile, Brown complemented him with a season-high 17 points and Dyer finished with 10 more.
Reeling from their three-game skid, the Mustangs have little time to get ready for Westmont on Tuesday evening. The Warriors, whose shocking loss earlier in the evening to Hope International cost them sole ownership of first place in the GSAC, will be looking for revenge following a home loss to the Mustangs on January 17.