By Bonta Hill
Mission High School’s boys basketball team was determined to return to the Academic Athletic Association championship game after last season’s loss to Washington.
Senior forward Gione Edwards and junior guard Kevin Murray were two players who sat through that disappointment, carrying that bad memory with them all season, and that experience paid off for the duo Friday night.
Edwards scored 25 points and took in 15 rebounds, while Murray, who shot 0-for-7 from the floor in last season’s championship game, scored a game-high 26 points as Mission won their second AAA title in three years with a 89-76 victory over Marshall on Friday at Kezar Pavilion.
Mission (23-10) also overcome another huge game by Marshall senior center Mark Alexander, who had a triple-double with 14 points, 21 rebounds, and 12 blocks.
“Kevin has had his ups and downs this season, but he was determined to get back to this game after last season,” said Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya. “Gione has been [great] all year – just phenomenal. He’s the player of the year in my book.”
Mission’s press stood out early, forcing 10 Marshall turnovers in the first quarter, and the Bears ended the frame on a 14-4 run, punctuated by a 3-pointer from Murray with 4 seconds left.
Another Mission run late in the second quarter gave the Bears a 44-33 lead at halftime, but Marshall (15-13) didn’t wilt.
The third quarter turned into a shootout, in which 51 points were scored.
The Phoenix opened the second half on an 8-1 run to cut the Bears’ lead to 45-41. Then, after falling behind 65-56, Marshall got back-to-back layups from junior guard Jason Smith and Alexander to cut the Mission lead to five points.
Mission junior guard Antoine Porter then sank a 3-pointer right before the third-quarter buzzer and the Bears went on a 15-2 run to giving them a commanding 80-62 lead midway through the fourth.
The Phoenix, who were trying to capture the first boys basketball championship in school history, didn’t have enough gas in the tank to keep up with Mission’s uptempo style and committed 23 turnovers.
“I don’t feel like the press was something that gave us problems, but rather it was us [not] putting the ball in the basket, especially early on,” said Marshall head coach Dezebee Miles. “But beyond that, Mission played extremely well and played better than us. We play mainly the same five guys and I tried to get every ounce out of them, but we just didn’t have enough.”
Zelaya felt that Marshall’s lack of depth, with just seven rostered players, was something his team could take advantage of.
“The plan was to try to press and force some turnovers, something we’ve been trying to do consistently all season,” Zelaya said. “We knew [Marshall] had a thin bench, so the game plan was to attack and play fast.”
The same two teams could very well be meeting in the championship game again next season, but both will have the task of replacing some prominent players.
Marshall will be moving on without Alexander and Mission will be without Edwards, arguably the two best players in the AAA this season.
“It’s going to be really tough to lose a player like Mark,” Miles said. “But it was great to have him and he performed for us all season long – Rebounding, scoring baskets, blocking shots – and he was a presence even in practice showing leadership. I’m just really happy with what this young man did this season.”
Edwards and Alexander will both have the opportunity to play on this season in the CIF State Championship tournament, but this was the pinnacle Edwards was looking to reach all year.
“Last year we were just too excited, but we made it our goal to win the [championship], and not just [be] happy to be here,” Edwards said. “With this being my last year, I had to do something for this team and this school.”
Kevin Murray – 26
Gione Edwards – 25
Antoine Porter – 12
Miles Prescott – 10
Armani McFarland – 6
Mizelle Parker – 19
Aumen Holliday – 17
Jason Smith – 15
Mark Alexander – 14
Preston Demming – 11