As evidenced by Palm Springs and Palm Desert on Wednesday night: Playing for a shot at a league title doesn’t require a lot of baskets.
It just requires a lot of heart.
Down by a dozen points at halftime, the host Indians scratched and hustled and clawed their way back in a spirited game against the Aztecs, before grinding out a 37-35 win in overtime.
The win, Palm Springs’ fifth in its past six games, sets up a winner take all DVL battle versus La Quinta on Friday night, with the victor laying claiming to the conference crown.
Trailing 22-10 at half on Wednesday after tallying a mere four baskets in the opening salvo, the Indians authored a 7-2 run to open the third and cut their deficit to seven points.
A 12-4 third period edge to the Indians set up a taut final period, where a driving layup by Indians’ point guard Kaelan Richter with a minute left gave Palm Springs its first lead since the night’s opening seconds. An ensuing running layup from the Aztecs’ Dylan Ulber tied the game at 30 apiece before the Indians outlasted the visitors in the extra session.
Stating his muscular presence with authority in overtime, Palm Springs’ senior forward John Scott scored the Indians’ first two baskets in OT and would go on to lead all scorers on the night with 17 points.
“It all starts with John Scott and Damion Lee, our two seniors,” said Indians’ head coach Chris Howard. “They’re big, and just wear on people and wear on people, and that’s the bottom line. These two guys are our strength and the reason we can grind like that.”
The senior standout didn’t see the night as a rematch of Palm Springs’s 55-37 win at Palm Desert on January 13.
“The other team’s aggression doesn’t matter,” Scott said. “We set a tempo at the beginning of the game. So whatever another team does, we just punch ‘em, back in the mouth.”
Indians’ sophomore guard Damien King added 11 points for the victors, including what proved the deciding bucket with 90 seconds left in overtime.
Palm Desert (8-3 DVL, 16-9) entered the night as winners of six consecutive games. The Aztecs’ own grinding approach had them on the brink of the DVL title shot the Indians’ will enjoy on Friday.
“That’s what we do, and Dylan (Ulber) here, he coined the phrase, ‘That’s who we are,’” said Palm Desert head coach Jim Serven of his team’s toiling style.
“We know it’s going to be a battle to score, but we also know we can play defense, so I’m proud of all these guys. They’re warriors, and have done everything we’ve asked of them.”
Ulber led Palm Desert with 11 points on the night, including eight in the first half.
“We just wanted to keep up the intensity, execute, run time as much as we could and try to control the game. But it didn’t work out that way,” said Ulber of the Indians’ comeback. “Tonight was just one of those times where the opponent keeps tacking on to it and eventually they get what they want.”
For Palm Springs (9-2 DVL, 19-5), their floor leader doesn’t look at Friday night as a chance to repeat its title from last season.
“We don’t look at it as defending out title – we look at it as winning this season,” concluded Howard. “We look at it as being dominant this year.”