A small stretch of the third period Wednesday night made a big difference for Red Mountain in its bid to keep its 5A Division I playoff hopes alive. Unfortunately, for the Mountain Lions, that stretch wasn’t a positive one.
Mesa broke open a tight game with a 4 1/2-minute run in the third quarter that led the Jackrabbits to a 79-64 victory over Red Mountain in the semifinals of the 5A Central Region boys basketball tournament at Jackrabbit Gym.
Red Mountain, which will not finish in the top 16 of the 5A-I power-point rankings, needed to win the regional to secure the automatic state berth that would have qualified it for state. The Mountain Lions ended the season with a 16-13 record.
“That’s the third time we’ve played Mesa and we had a little stretch like we had in the third quarter tonight in each game,” Red Mountain coach Greg Sessions said. “We played them toe to toe for 28 minutes the first two times. Not that long tonight. But that’s the feature of a good basketball team. They keep coming at you until they find that crease.”
Mesa (23-4), which next faces Hamilton for the region tournament title on Friday night at 7:15 at Mesa High, went to intermission with a 35-34 lead. The Jackrabbits led most of the first half, but by no more than six points. Mesa coach Shane Burcar made defense the focus of the halftime festivities.
“I wasn’t impressed at all with our defense the first half,” Burcar said. “We told them its up to them. They have to make a decision to play defense. That’s going to be our bread and butter.”
Red Mountain committed just six turnovers in the first half, but doubled that in the third period. The Mountain Lions attempted only nine shots in the quarter and when they stopped the miscues late in the quarter they found themselves down a dozen, 48-36, with 3:22 left in the third after a three-point play by Mesa guard Jahii Carson. Red Mountain trailed by 12 at the end of the period. They failed to make a run at Mesa in the final period.
Both teams had balanced scoring. Carson led all scorers with 26 points. Danny Powell (12), Adam Milkovich (11) and Mohamed Sobh (10) were also in double figures for Mesa. Paul Newendyke closed out a four-year varsity stay for Red Mountain with 15 points. Teammate Eric Pacheco also had 15 points.