The questions about Mesa’s state title contender viability only increased by halftime of Monday’s game against top-ranked Mountain View.
So the third-ranked Jackrabbits turned up the pressure.
A suffocating full-court press gave the Toros fits as Mesa’s masterful second half resulted in a 67-60 victory to cap off the MLK Basketball Classic on Monday night at Wells Fargo Arena and boost the Jackrabbits back among the short list of contenders for the 5A-I crown.
Mesa was reeling after a loss to Pinnacle on Jan. 4, but has won four straight since.
“We (had) to get tough,” Mesa coach Shane Burcar said. “Bottom line, we can talk like we’re good and all that, but unless we do it, we’re nothing.”
Mountain View led 34-28 at the half, but Mesa turned it around in the final two quarters mainly due to the trapping defense. The Toros turned the ball over 21 times and were called for a pair of 10-second backcourt violations.
Mountain View dominated the glass, outrebounding Mesa 29-16, but had trouble simply getting shots up after intermission, which contributed to the comeback.
“Once we picked up the defensive intensity it seemed like everything started to fall into place,” Mesa point guard Jahii Carson said.
Carson led the way for the Jackrabbits, scoring 31 points and handing out eight assists. Desmond Medder added 18 points for Mesa. The Arizona State-bound Carson averages fewer than three assists per game on the season, but was getting everyone involved in this one.
“It’s hard to guard us when we are doing that,” Burcar said.
Mountain View entered the final quarter with a 47-46 lead, but that changed quickly. Carson found Medder and Trent Molesworth for baskets to put the Jackrabbits ahead 50-47, and they wouldn’t trail the rest of the way.
Camyn Boone hit a shot and was fouled with 1:29 to cut the lead to three points, but he missed the ensuing free throw and Mesa hit seven of its final eight free throws to clinch the victory.
Boone battled foul trouble throughout the game, as did guard Mark Mazzucco. Jaren Sweeney led the Toros with 19 points, but the team only registered 26 points after intermission.