RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — The end of Jackson’s MaxPreps Holiday Classic semifinal went just like the Timberwolves drew it up.
With his Jackson team down by two points and time running out, Brian Zehr received a pass from Marcus Blake and launched a 3-point attempt off as time expired. The buzzer rang, the shot went in and the Jackson celebration began as the Timberwolves finalized a 53-52 come-from-behind win in overtime against Long Beach Poly in the semifinals of the MaxPreps Holiday Classic.
“We joke that we ran it just like we drew it up. We didn’t draw anything up,” said Jackson head coach Steve Johnson. “… The guys are really excited, as well they should be. Just a great effort. I’m just really proud of how hard they played. It’s a great win over a perennial (contender and) well-known program. I don’t even know what to say. I’m somewhat speechless.”
Jackson will play Capital Christian (Sacramento, Calif.) in the championship game Monday at 8:40 p.m. in the MaxPreps tournament, which features some of the top teams in the country.
The overtime period was a back-and-forth battle with Long Beach Poly taking the lead and stealing the ball back with less than 20 seconds. Down 52-50, Jackson fouled and a Jackrabbit player missed the first of a one-and-one free throw attempt.
Click here to listen to Jackson’s Brian Zehr talk with MaxPreps about the big shot.
The Timberwolves hustled the ball down the floor and found Zehr in the corner who turned toward the basket and got up the game-winning shot that sent Jackson to the championship game.
“When he missed the free throw I thought about calling a timeout but I didn’t,” Johnson said. “I went with letting them go. There are different schools of thought on that. Some call a timeout. I chose to go forward in the open floor. Brian certainly wasn’t the first guy that we thought would be shooting the three. The best thing he did was realize, ‘I’ve got the ball. I’ve got to make a play.’ And he did.”
Zehr finished with eight points but none were bigger than his final basket as time expired. It capped a big comeback by the Timberwolves, who saw themselves trail by as many as 12 points. Jackson limited Long Beach Poly to six points in the fourth quarter and outscored the Jackrabbits 24-17 in the second half to tie the game at 46 and force overtime.
“I’m just glad, down 12 and not playing well, it looked like (Long Beach Poly) might take control of the game and run away with it,” Johnson said. “We showed a lot of character and toughness and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Johnson said that after the game his message to his team was just how proud he was of them for rallying back from a double-digit deficit and not giving up against a strong, athletic Long Beach Poly team.
“We just talked about how proud I was of what they did and how hard they played,” Johnson said. “How courageous they were.”
Jason Todd led the Timberwolves with 22 points and Dan Kingma added 12 for Jackson (5-0 overall). Timberwolves’ sophomore Sam Saufferer also made a pair of baskets — including a 3-pointer in a 7-0 third-quarter run — to help Jackson cut the deficit.
Now, Jackson hopes to be the first non-California team to win the title in the tournament’s 11-year history when it faces Capital Christian on Monday in the championship game.
“The guys are excited. We’re proud to represent our state and our area and our league,” Johnson said. “I’m very proud. We want to get it done. We’ve got one more to go. Capital Christian’s a good team. That’s going to be a huge challenge. It’s great. We came down here to hopefully have success. We came down here to play and beat good teams.”
Chris Sullivan and Ke’jhan Feagin had 15 points apiece for Long Beach Poly (8-4), which will face Westchester, last year’s tournament champion, in the third-place game on Monday.
At Rancho Mirage H.S.
Jackson 12 10 14 10 7 — 53
Long Beach Poly 13 16 11 6 6 — 52
Jackson—Dan Kingma 12, Jason Todd 22, Brian Zehr 8, Marcus Blake 0, Connor Willgress 4, Sam Saufferer 7, Blake Ozuna 0, Riley Waite 0. Long Beach Poly—Jordan Dallas 2, Chris Sullivan 15, Kameron Murrell 13, Ke’jhan Feagin 15, Jeff Calhoun 1, Drew Buggs 2, Devon Edmonds 1. 3-point goals—Todd, Kingma, Feagin, Murrell 2, Sullivan, Zehr. Records—Jackson 5-0 overall. Long Beach Poly 8-4.