MEN’S BASKETBALL: Giants cruise past Porterville

COS’ Omari Nesbit dribbles the ball against Porterville this past Wednesday. With a 72-53 win over Porterville, the Giants improved to 20-5 overall and 8-3 in the Central Valley Conference.(NORMA FOSTER/COS ATHLETICS)

COS men’s basketball overcomes a halftime deficit to defeat Porterville 72-53; Giants remain in striking distance of a Central Valley Conference title with an 8-3 conference record

COS ATHLETICS – Despite a disastrous start, winning the Central Valley Conference men’s basketball title and securing a top-four seed for the Northern California Regional playoffs remains within reach for College of the Sequoias.

The state No. 14-ranked Giants overcame a four-point first-half deficit while cruising past Porterville 72-53 on Feb. 14 at Porter Field House to stay one game behind CVC-leading Fresno City with three to play.

Sequoias has won three straight since suffering three losses by three or fewer points during the first half of CVC play to Columbia (83-80 in overtime Jan. 10), Merced (69-67 Jan. 13) and Reedley (64-63 on Jan. 31).

The Giants (20-5, 8-3) are tied with No. 17 Columbia (20-5, 8-3) for second place behind No. 24 Fresno City (16-9, 9-2) in a conference race where five teams – including No. 27 West Hills-Lemoore (17-7, 7-4) and No. 25 Merced (18-7, 6-5) – are still in contention to capture the CVC crown. A five-way title tie is a mathematical possibility.

Sequoias, however, can win a third consecutive CVC championship on the court and a fifth straight overall counting Fresno City forfeits in 2019 and 2020, by sweeping its final three games, starting at 3 p.m. Feb. 17 at home against West Hills-Coalinga (7-17, 1-10).

The Giants play at Fresno City at 5 p.m. Feb. 21, and at Reedley (6-17, 2-9) at 5 p.m. Feb. 23 to close the regular season.

“We realize at this point, having lost three games in conference but still knowing we have the ability to win conference is kind of a blessing,” Sequoias coach Dallas Jensen said. “And we’re trying to take advantage of it, not overlook anybody and just win the day essentially. For us, I know there’s a lot going on in conference and it’s fun to watch and look at, but at the end of the day we also know that we are three games away, if we can win out, from potentially winning conference and having a really high seed for the playoffs.” 

The Giants should be in play for a top-four seed in the NorCal Regionals, which guarantees home games through the Elite Eight-qualifying game should they win out. Sequoias is No. 3 in Winning Percentage Index and No. 4 in non-conference Rating Percentage Index – two key criteria in postseason seeding – among teams from NorCal.

Playoff seedings are expected to be announced Feb. 25, with the postseason starting Feb. 28. The Elite Eight, which Sequoias has reached in each of the past four championship seasons, is set for March 15-17 at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.

“I think the North has a lot of great teams,” Jensen said. “There is a lot of parity this year, and I would love to position ourselves to be able to stay here in Visalia and have our community and hometown support on our way down to Southern California if we’re fortunate enough to make it.”

Porterville (9-16, 3-8) tried to derail Sequoias’ title hopes with a hot-shooting first half.

The Pirates shot 48% from the field (12 of 25) and 55.6% on 3-pointers (5 of 9) while taking a 29-25 lead at halftime.

Porterville closed the first half on a 7-1 run over the final 4 minutes, 21 seconds to erase a 24-22 Giants’ lead.

Sequoias, meanwhile, shot 30% from the field (9 of 30) and 25% on 3-pointers (4 of 16).

“I didn’t think we played badly in the first half. Porterville did a really, really good job of controlling tempo and valuing possession and they made their open shots,” Jensen said. “We got some clean looks in the first half that we just couldn’t knock down. Luckily our defense kept us in another ball game and we finally got rolling in the second half.”

The Giants opened the second half with an 11-2 run – including six of Omari Nesbit’s nine points – to surge into the lead 36-31 with 16:55 remaining.

Sequoias’ next four baskets were 3-pointers – three by Jose Cuello (Harlem, N.Y.) and one by Alex Argandar (Modesto) – as its lead swelled to 11 points (48-37) with 10:39 left.

The Giants’ lead grew as big as 21 points (72-51) on a jumper by Cameron Clark (Gwinnett, Ga.) with 41 seconds to play.

“Our energy and engagement was a little bit better the first few minutes of the second half, and that engagement kind of fed into our offense a little bit,” Jensen said. “Once we banged a couple shots, the guys were a little bit more eager to turn it up another notch defensively. The second half we held them to 24 points, and again, yes, we made shots which was great, but so much of who we are and what we do relies on our defensive physicality.”

Cuello led the Giants with 26 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Argandar delivered 11 points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals, while Newsbit (Sacramento) contributed four rebounds, an assist and a steal.

Sequoias also received eight points and two rebounds from Kion Hayes (Savannah, Ga.); six points, eight rebounds, an assist and a steal from Jaden Haire (Hanford West); six points, five rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal from Clark; four points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal from Jaylon Lee (Las Vegas); and two points, four assists and two rebounds from Davis White (Santa Clarita).

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