Just like Gordon Hayward’s half court heave in the 2010 NCAA Men’s National Championship game, Jeremiah Brown’s shot looked good the entire way, from the moment it left his fingertips, to when it nailed the backboard and up until it ricocheted off the front of the rim and rattled out.
Had the Indio senior’s shot fell, the Rajahs would have earned themselves new life and potentially firm grip back on the Desert Valley League title race. Instead, after giving up a 35-25 halftime lead, Indio will have to take a backseat to the victors, Palm Springs, who won Friday night at home, 64-61, and who control their own destiny in hopes of repeating as DVL champs.
“It’s exciting, it’s sure exciting,” Palm Springs coach Chris Howard said with a content sigh. “I know, it looked like it was good. Thank God it went out, but hey, this team (Indio) is 7-2. Bottom line, it wasn’t going to be easy.”
And in the outset, it certainly wasn’t for the Indians. Both teams started out looking tense, neither scoring in the first two minutes of the game before Indio jumped out to an 8-1 lead off four relatively easy layups. The Indians managed to take the lead, 14-12, before the end of the first quarter, but the Rajahs felt like they were just on the precipice of catching fire.
That’s the benefit of being arguably the best team shooting from beyond the arc in the DVL. In the span of less than 40 seconds at the start of the second period, that fire lit, with threes from Christian Briceno, Jaime Perezchica and Phillip Thigpen. All the sudden, the Rajahs held a nine-point lead they would nurse going into halftime, up 35-25, with the help of Palm Springs shooting just 7 of 16 from the free throw line.
“They wouldn’t say they were tight. They said ‘We’re okay’, but you could tell,” Howard said. “Hey, at least we didn’t wait until the fourth quarter.”
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In the two games the Indians have lost in league action thus far this season, both by two points to Cathedral City and La Quinta, Palm Springs had faltered early, only to run out of time. Junior point guard Kaelan Richter, who led all scorers with 39 points, wasted little time opening the second half. He and sophomore Damien King traded layups early as Richter saw opportunities to drive into the lane and head to the charity stripe, with the refs lack of hesitation to let the teams play.
Richter knocked down eight of his last nine free throws after starting 4 for 10 totaling 28 points in the second half. His key shots far beyond the foul line – a 3-pointer to close the third quarter and put the Indians within three points and another to close within one to start the fourth – changed the momentum of the gym and silenced the heavy Indio crowd that traveled well.
“That second half performance was big,” Howard said of Richter. “He got to the rim, played off the two rather than the three, made his free throws, and that’s what you do as a returner.”
The two teams jostled back-and-forth until two minutes to go when Palm Springs edged ahead by five. The game got interesting after Palm Springs’ Nick Reyes-Foster missed two free throws, which Indio’s Pedro Garcia followed with a quick transition layup to get within three. He followed it up with another after two Richter free throws, before Indio forced a turnover with 1.4 seconds left.
With Brown’s shot bouncing out, the Indians control their own title destiny, hosting Palm Desert and La Quinta next week, who both sit tied with Palm Springs at 8-2.
“I think after this one, we’ll enjoy the moment in the next two,” Howard said. “We kinda just had to get this one out of the way.”
PALM SPRINGS 64, INDIO 61
(FG FT-FTA TP) Christian Briceno 6-0-3-15, Phillip Thigpen 2-0-1-6, Jeremiah Brown 8-8-11-25, Andres Arellano 3-0-0-6, Pedro Garcia 3-0-0-6, Jaime Perezchica 1-0-0-3.
Palm Springs (64)
(FG FT-FTA TP) Damion Lee 0-2-5-2, John Scott 4-6-9-14, Nick Reyes-Foster 1-0-2-3, Damien King 3-0-0-6, Kaelan Richter 12-12-19-39.
Indio 12 23 9 17 — 61
Palm Springs 14 11 18 21 — 64
3-Point Goals – Indio (7): Briceno 3, Thigpen 2, Brown 1, Perezchica 1. Palm Springs (4): Richter 3, Reyes-Foster 1.