By Jeremy Balan
The stretch run of the Academic Athletic Association’s boys basketball season is no longer a two-horse race.
With the same five players on the floor for the vast majority of the game, visiting Marshall High School upset Mission 77-71 on Wednesday.
Combined with Lincoln’s win over Balboa on Wednesday, the loss knocks the Bears (17-9, 10-2) out of first place in the AAA’s Lang Division and puts Marshall (11-11, 9-3) a game behind Mission and two games behind the Mustangs.
Led by 30 points, 21 rebounds and seven blocks from 6-foot-6 senior center Mark Alexander, the Phoenix, who only have seven players on their roster but only get significant minutes from their starting five, led for the entire first half and carried a 44-37 lead into the break.
The second half was a different story, however, as Mission went on a 8-0 run to start the third quarter to take a 45-44 lead and the final 16 minutes featured 14 lead changes.
Mission’s biggest lead was 71-67 with 1:45 remaining, but Alexander scored four consecutive points in the paint to tie the game.
The senior then took in a crucial rebound on Mission’s next possession and hit sophomore guard Mizell Parker with an outlet pass. Parker got the ball at mid-court and scored on a driving layup while being fouled with 16 seconds left to give the Phoenix back the lead for good.
Parker missed the ensuing free throw and Alexander again got the rebound and then he got tied up with a Mission defender, but the Phoenix kept possession.
“Mark is fantastic and they can say what they want about who is the best big man in the league, and I’ll keep that too myself, but he outplayed every big man on that floor and he played practically the whole game,” said Marshall head coach Dezebee Miles.
Timeouts from both teams followed, and with the Phoenix only clinging to a two-point lead, another sophomore guard put the game away for Marshall.
Mission junior point guard Antoine Porter appeared to secure a steal on the next inbound play, but Marshall’s Jason Smith stole the ball back from Porter and was fouled with 10 second remaining.
The sophomore calmly sunk both free throws to extend Marshall’s lead to 75-71, then blocked a 3-pointer from Mission guard Kevin Murray on the next Bears’ possession. Fellow sophomore Preston Deming, Alexander’s frontcourt partner, also had a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
“Isn’t that something,” Miles said of Smith’s play in the final seconds. “I have three sophomores and they’re really starting to understand what to do, how to do it and when to do it. That’s carrying us quite a bit.”
Mission had a mistake-laden first half, but largely outplayed Marshall in the second half, until the final two minutes.
Mission senior forward Gione Edwards countered Alexander with a team-high 22 points and 18 rebounds, but had his final points on a fast-break layup that gave the Bears a 62-61 lead with 5:16 remaining
“We’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot all year, but today that wasn’t the case. We got outplayed,” said Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya. “These are all possible opponents in the Lang [Division] and we need to do a lot of things better, and tonight we didn’t.”
Mark Alexander – 30
Preston Deming – 19
Aumen Holliday – 11
Mizell Parker – 11
Jason Smith – 6
Gione Edwards – 22
Antoine Porter – 13
Armani McFarland – 10
Miles Prescott – 9
Kevin Murray – 8