The Menlo College men's basketball team (10-17) is heading to the California Pacific Conference championship game following a 75-72 overtime victory over the top-seeded William Jessup Warriors (11-17) in Friday's semifinal matchup in Rocklin.
Menlo battled back to force overtime on a Charles Barnes putback as the clock wound down in regulation. In overtime, senior ChaRunn Jones buried a deep three from the corner with 38 seconds remaining to give the Oaks the 74-72 lead.
They never looked back. Menlo forced a Warrior turnover with 19 seconds on the clock and William Jessup fouled Malik Dunbar who went to the line and converted on 1 of 2 free throws to put the score at 75-72 where it would remain.
Charles Barnes led the Oaks with 21 points and Jones was close behind with 20. Menlo dominated the rebounding battle, out rebounding William Jessup 43-28, including 19 offensive boards.
A third of the Menlo offense was provided by Barnes in the first half. Barnes came out of the locker room on fire, scoring the first 10 points for the Oaks.
Conversely, William Jessup struggled from the field going 0 for 4 from three point range in the first five minutes. The Warriors finally started to find their stroke late in the first period. With 4:20 remaining in half, William Jessup took their first lead of the night, 20-19. They then outscored the Oaks 10 to 6 in the final four minutes to take a 30-35 lead into the break.
Menlo came out with a vengeance in the second half, going on a 10-3 run to start the period and regain the lead, 33-30.
The counter punch was thrown by the Warriors as they went on a run of their own and eventually stretched their lead to the largest of the night, 9 points, on a Kennan Prince three pointer with 10:23 on the game clock. Trailing 53-44, the Oaks continued to battle. Keith Bowman made a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 7.
Following a turnover, Jones once again stroked a 3-pointer to put his team back within striking distance, 53-49.
William Jessup stayed on the attack and led 62-56 with just over a minute remaining.
It was at this point that the Oaks lone senior, Jones, took over. Jones worked his way in to the lane to convert on an acrobatic lay-up attempt, making the score 62-58.
Sterling Shells was fouled on the other end for William Jessup and he converted on 1 of 2 free throws to extend the Warrior lead to 5.
Menlo immediately answered when Jones was fouled shooting a three. He knocked down all three free throws to cut the lead to 63-61.
Shells once again went to the line on the next possession, this time making both and giving his team the 65-61 lead.
Trailing by 4 with 24 seconds remaining, the Oaks defense and Barnes came up big. Barnes worked his way inside for a quick two. Then, on the inbound pass, Menlo applied pressure to William Jessup's Jordan Wilson and forced a crucial turnover when Wilson was called for the travel.
With one final possession and 15 seconds remaining, Bowman attempted a turn around jumper in the lane that missed, but Barnes was right there for the offensive rebound and put back to tie the game and send it to overtime at 65-65.
In total, there were six lead changes in the second half and nine in the game. An elated Menlo head coach Jon Surface was ecstatic with the way his team stuck with it and forced an overtime period against a talented opponent.
"First off, our guys never quit. They never faltered down the stretch. We knew we still had a chance and we played our butts off. My hat is off to them. We were able to cause a couple of turnovers and crawl back in and send it to overtime."
In overtime, the teams continued to match each other shot for shot. With under a minute to play, trailing by 1, Marquis Robinson made a pair of free throws to give the Warriors a 1 point lead, 72-71.
It wouldn't last long as, once again, Jones connected from distance, his third of the night, to give the Oaks the 74-72 lead with just 39 seconds remaining.
On their final possession, William Jessup went back to their go-to threat, Wilson. Wilson worked his way inside for a decent look but wasn't able to get it to drop and the Oaks came up with the rebound. Dunbar was fouled and went to the line shooting two. He converted on 1 of 2 to extend the Oaks lead to 75-72 and seal the deal.
Once Menlo forced overtime, they were able to draw on their experience in close games down the stretch. Five of the last six games played by the Oaks have been decided by five or fewer points; two of those six games were won in overtime. Drawing on that experience, Surface was confident in his team's tenacity and determination in the extra period.
"Once we got it back in to overtime I think we just weren't going to let up. They played so well down the stretch and pulled this one off," noted Surface.
Three Menlo scorers reached double digits including: Barnes with 21, Jones with 20 and Bowman with 14. Barnes and Bowman recorded double-double's in the winning effort, pulling down 11 boards a piece. William Jessup's Wilson led all scorers with 23 points.
Menlo's first win of the season over the Warriors came at the right time as the victory will send the Oaks to the Cal Pac tournament championship on Monday night.
Awaiting the Oaks is the reigning tournament champion CSU Maritime. Maritime defeated UC Merced 95-81 on Friday night to secure their spot in the 2013 Cal Pac finals. Menlo and CSU Maritime will meet at 7:30pm in Vallejo, Calif. on Monday night. The Oaks and Keelhaulers have split their two regular season meetings.
Playing the defending Cal Pac champions in the tournament finals is a difficult task, but one that Surface and the Oaks are excited to pursue.
"I expect another battle going against Maritime. They're the reigning champions and we wouldn't want to see any other opponent in the championship game," said Surface.