Giants keep pace in Central Valley Conference

(Rigo Moran)

COS men’s basketball picks up a 54-43 win on the road against Fresno City College; Giants improve to 22-5 and move into a three-way tie atop the Central Valley Conference with a 10-3 record

COS ATHLETICS – The Central Valley Conference men’s basketball championship – and a potential top-four seed in the Northern California Regional playoffs – is within reach for College of the Sequoias.

The Giants put themselves in position to secure both behind Jaden Haire, who delivered 20 points, 12 rebounds and a block during a 54-43 win at rival Fresno City College on Feb. 21.

State No. 14-ranked Sequoias (22-5 overall) sits tied with No. 24 Fresno City (17-10) and No. 17 Columbia (22-5) atop the CVC at 10-3 with one game remaining.

Columbia beat West Hills-Lemoore 87-85 to help create the three-way tie for first place.

The Giants play at Reedley (7-18, 3-10) at 5 p.m. Feb. 23, while Columbia hosts Fresno City in its regular season finale. With a win over the Tigers, Sequoias would share a third consecutive CVC title won on the court and a fifth straight overall factoring in Fresno City forfeits in 2019 and 2020.

“Tonight’s win was huge,” Giants coach Dallas Jensen said. “We talked about that this week, and even before we left Porter Field House today just how important this game was not only for an opportunity to win a conference championship again, but also just to get a better seed when it comes to playoffs.

“It carried a lot of weight tonight, so to get in and play that well and come out with a win was really, really exciting.”

Reedley beat the Giants 64-63 on Jan. 31 in Visalia in the first round of CVC play. In that game, Sequoias was clinging to a 63-62 lead when the Tigers forced a turnover and scored the winning shot with 4 seconds to play.

Reedley is coming off an 82-79 win at Porterville.

“We want to enjoy the win tonight, but tomorrow morning when we wake up it’s time to turn the page and get ready for Friday,” Jensen said. “Our whole thought and mindset after the game was just one more. I think our boys are very anxious to get up to Reedley on Friday night and try to secure that win and put ourselves in a good position moving forward.”

Against Fresno City, Sequoias received 3-pointers from Haire (Hanford West), Jose Cuello (Harlem, N.Y.) and Alex Argandar (Modesto) while jumping out to a 13-4 lead.

The Giants’ lead grew as large as 11 points (24-13) on a 3-pointer by Kion Hayes (Savannah, Ga.) at the 2 minute, 35 second mark before settling for a 24-15 edge at halftime.

Sequoias stretched the lead to 12 points twice in the second half, the last (41-29) on a layup by Cameron Clark (Gwinnett, Ga.) with 10:12 left in the game.

But Fresno City rallied with an 11-0 run capped by Brian Carter’s layup to make it a one-point game (41-40) with 4:38 to play.

Sequoias then responded with 3-pointers on consecutive possessions by Argandar and Mikey Ficher (Tulare Western) to surge ahead 47-40 with 3:46 left.

The Rams would get no closer than five points the rest of the way.

Haire scored five points over the final 2:30 to help the Giants pull away.

“Down the stretch our guys made big plays in big moments,” Jensen said. “Everybody that was on the floor tonight contributed in some capacity. It was like the ultimate team win, which was obviously very rewarding to watch everybody be successful at the same time.”

Argandar finished with 10 points, three rebounds, two assists and a block, while Cuello had 10 points, three rebounds and three assists for the Giants.

Sequoias also received five points, a rebound, an assist and a steal from Ficher; four points and five rebounds from Hayes; three points, four rebounds and a steal from Davis White (Santa Clarita); two points, four rebounds and four blocks from Clark; and 12 rebounds, three blocks and an assist from Jaylon Lee (Las Vegas).

NorCal Regional playoff seedings will be announced Feb. 26.

With nine wins over state Top 30-ranked opponents, the third-best Ratings Percentage Index and the fourth-best Winning Percentage Index among teams in NorCal, Jensen said the Giants have made a strong case to be a top-four seed for the third straight season should they win at Reedley. The top four seeds received a first-round bye in the 24-team field, and home court advantage up until the state’s Elite Eight, which is set for March 15-17 at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.

Sequoias has reached the Elite Eight in each of the past four championship seasons.

“I think our resume is really good for seeding,” Jensen said. “I would hope that a win on Friday night would potentially secure a top-four seed for us.”

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