SAN MATEO — While the NBA All-Star Weekend festivities continued Saturday night in New Orleans, the crowd inside the packed gym at Hillsdale got a show of its own in the boys final of the Peninsula Athletic League Tournament.
It was the rubber match between rivals Menlo-Atherton and Sequoia, who each held court at home during the regular season.
After a frantic first half that more resembled an All-Star Game, both teams fought tooth-and-nail during every possession down the stretch before a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer fell short to turn Sequoia into the champion with a 68-65 victory.
“Just the whole M-A and Sequoia is just huge,” Sequoia coach Fine Lauese said. “That first half was unbelievable. Both teams, I don’t think there was much defense. Both back and forth and we were launching 3s.
“But I felt like we got some lucky bounces at the end, we got some key rebounds from our big guy and I couldn’t ask for any more.”
M-A (22-5) forced a turnover with 13.8 seconds left to get one final shot at the tie, but Sequoia (23-4) was draped over every shooter on the perimeter and an off-balance heave hit the backboard and front of the rim as the Cherokees erupted in celebration.
“In a game like this, they made one more play than us,” said M-A coach Mike Molieri, whose team was held scoreless during the final 3 minutes of action. “For the fans, it was one of the better gamesfor everybody to watch. I think both teams, whatever they decide at CCS, should be highly regarded.”
“It’s huge to settle the whole thing with M-A,” Lauese said. “Now we can focus on CCS, wherever they want to put us. But it’s huge momentum for us. We just gotta enjoy this tonight, gear up next week and hopefully we make another run.”
The first quarter set the tone, with Sequoia and M-A trading 3-pointers almost at will. The teams combined to split 10 shots from beyond the arc to finish the opening period tied at 22-all.
“This is a game what was a little too high scoring for us,” Molieri said. “This was not a game about defense. .. It is the NBA (All-Star) Weekend, so I guess there was a 3-point shooting contest out there.”
M-A sophomore James Beckwith came out firing away, with all of his team-high 14 points and four 3-pointers coming in the first half.
The Bears also got 13 points and a trio of treys from senior Kai Winterling, while PAL South MVP Eric Norton contributed 10 points.
For the Cherokees, it was business as usual with the tandem of N’Jai LeBlanc Jr. and Ziggy Lauese doing most of the damage.
Both PAL South first-team selections, it was LeBlanc Jr. running the show from the point, with Lauese taking care of the dirty work in the paint.
“I think the biggest difference was Ziggy in the middle,” Molieri said. “We were running out of bodies and he’s a load in the middle, and that’s what I think kind of wore us out.”
Lauese pounded his way to 17 points, including a key bucket with 2:50 left to tie it at 65-all.
Fifty seconds later, it was fellow junior Zach Bene pulling his Ray Allen impersonation by coming off a screen to drain the go-ahead 3-pointer, giving him 10 points after being held scoreless in the first half due to foul trouble.
“You wouldn’t want to win against nobody other than M-A,” said LeBlanc Jr, who finished with a game-high 18 points. “They’re a tough team to beat, we know everybody on the team, there’s relationships from top to bottom. It’s just extra sweet when you win against people you know and people that are really good.
“So it’s extra sweet to lose in league and beat them in PAL.”
The Central Coast Section brackets will be announced Sunday, with both the Bears and Cherokees poised to make some noise in the postseason.
“To me, I don’t know the difference,” LeBlanc Jr. said. “I’m just here to play basketball, so whatever they chose for us to go, I’m going to make sure I’m ready and I’m going to try to get my guys ready.”
PAL boys basketball tournament final
Sequoia 22 17 13 16 — 68
Menlo-Atherton 22 15 15 13 — 65
S—LeBlanc Jr. 7 1-1 18, Lauese 7 3-5 17, Bene 4 0-0 4, Nunez 3 0-0 9, Schult 2 2-2 8, Pruhsmeier 2 0-0 6. Totals 25 6-8 68.
MA—Sweetnam 5 0-0 14, Winterling 4 2-2 13, Norton 2 5-6 10, Beasley 4 1-2 9, Faberowski 3 -0 8, Perrone 2 0-0 4, Hill 1 1-2 3, Stillman 1 0-0 2, Fowler 1 0-0 2. Totals 23 9-12 65.
3-pointers: LeBlanc Jr. 3, Nunez 3, Bene 2, Schult 2, Pruhsmeier 2 (S); Sweetnam 4, Winterling 3, Faberowski 2, Norton (MA).
Records: Sequoia 23-4, Menlo-Atherton 22-5.