The Culver City High boys basketball fans were treated to an early Ocean League showdown between the Centaurs and visiting Santa Monica High last Friday night in Del Goodyear Gymnasium.
But to their dismay the Centaurs fell to their arch rival, 62-53, as the Vikings' consistent pressure and execution earned them a comeback victory.
The loss dropped Culver into a third place tie with Inglewood at 1-1 each in early Ocean League standings. Santa Monica's victory kept them in a first place tie with Beverly Hills at 2-0. Morningside and Hawthorne remain in last place with 0-2 records.
The Centaurs fell behind initially but took the lead after the first quarter, 14-13, as they got their running game going while their pressure defense hampered the Vikings offense. The lead would increase by one point at halftime, 26-24.
Culver increased the lead to 40-33 at the end of the third quarter. Less than two minutes into the fourth quarter the score was tied at 42 and Santa Monica was on its way.
Culver head coach Adam Eskridge observed "Through three quarters we did a great job of digging down and taking away their guys that going to be open on the opposite block when they draw a slide. We did a great job of that for three quarters. All of a sudden in the fourth quarter we weren't making those extra few steps."
The collapse started with foul trouble on their leader, Armani Nicolis, and combined with some subsequent tough calls it escalated from there.
Eskridge, "There was a call in the fourth quarter that changed our outlook. Then when Armani was able to get back in he was just not able to be that aggressive rim protector that we're used to seeing. That weakened our defense and our rebounding a lot."
Eskridge didn't take Santa Monica lightly going into the game. "The first three quarters they run dribble-drive motion and they just run it, run it, run it. They're very physical and I have so much respect for them because of how well they execute."
But he realized that his guys didn't quit. "Some of the calls weren't going our way. The ball wasn't bouncing our way. We could've thrown the towel in but we didn't," he said. When we were down by five with three minutes to go we kept fighting and fighting."
Previous to the Santa Monica game the Centaurs were on a four game win streak due to playing their best ball of the season. Two impressive road victories against West Torrance, 62-52, and Torrance, 71-54 combined with their Ocean League home-opening win against Morningside, 77-57 had Eskridge enjoying his team's play.
"The three games against West Torrance, Torrance and Morningside were our best games of the year. Offensively we were moving the ball, we were sharing it, we were playing at that pace, we were making stops, our defense came back. We were having fun."
He continued, "The West Torrance game was a good road win. Our shots weren't falling but we were getting great looks all night long. We were well scouted and they tried to slow us down. But we just kept grinding and in the third quarter we adjusted a couple of things and just pulled away."
Things were clicking even sharper in the next game against Torrance. "The win I was the happiest with was against Torrance. The first time we played them I was very impressed with them. They play together, extremely hard and they don't give up. It's a fight when you play them."
Forward Wesley Dixon came up big in the game, according to Eskridge. "They were killing us on the offensive glass in the first half. In the second half Wesley took it upon himself to get every single rebound. He was just a man down there. He controlled it. He was throwing bodies around and he was not to be denied on the boards. When we were able to keep them to one shot and to push is what changed that game around completely."
The momentum continued at home for the Morningside game. "Morningside was long, they were athletic and played hard defensively. They had a kid who was a transfer from our school so our guys were pretty fired up to play him."
"I have to give a major shout out to Chris Edwards for that game. Chris and he have been compared since their freshman year. Now they're seniors and are playing against each other. Chris really wanted to guard him and he held him to two points. In the process Chris scored 23 points. Winning that matchup for us was a big win."