Two minutes after being on the brink of blowout, Mesa had defenders flying after Alex Barcello, hoping the sharp-shooting junior would miss.
Barcello’s 3-point try as the buzzer sounded bounced off the rim, and four-time defending state champion Tempe Corona del Sol’s 70-game boys basketball winning streak against Arizona teams ended Tuesday night in a 65-62 loss that had Mesa students rushing the court.
“We almost blew it,” Mesa coach Shane Burcar’s first words were as he greeted reporters.
Sixth-ranked Mesa was playing its sixth game, after losing the only game of its Fear The Hop Thanksgiving tournament last week to champion Anthem Boulder Creek by two points in the semifinals.
Mesa (5-1) put immediate pressure on Corona del Sol, jumping out to a 9-2 lead and never trailed.
It took its biggest lead, 58-46, with 2:21 left, before Corona del Sol’s trapping, full-court pressure began to get to Mesa.
Lee converted a three-point play, Barcello had a steal and made a jumper, Lee followed in a missed shot and Barcello drained a 3 in a minute’s span to bring Corona del Sol to within 60-56. But during that time Henderson fouled out.
Mesa’s last nine points came from the free-throw line with sophomore Mark Hatch making four of them and senior Darius Goudeau making the last one with six seconds left that gave Mesa a 65-62 lead.
That was enough time for Corona del Sol to get the ball down to its All-Arizona guard, who lofted a contested 3 as time ran out.
“He put them back in the game,” Burcar said. “He made some unbelievable shots. I thought David Cummard did a great job on him. Alex is arguably the best player in the state or one of them.”
Corona del Sol was coming off a 33-1 season with its only loss coming against a California school, Chatsworth Sierra Canyon (65-64) last January in the Hoophall West Classic at Scottsdale Chaparral.
Corona del Sol’s last loss to an Arizona team came on Jan. 29, 2013, a 62-54 setback at Mesa Dobson.
After last season’s state title, coach Sam Duane Jr., stepped down, and 6-foot-11 Marvin Bagley III left to explore another basketball opportunity after being named by azcentral sports as the state’s Player of the Year as a freshman. Both Sam and his father Sam Sr., were in attendance Tuesday.
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This was the most vulnerable Corona del Sol appeared entering a season since it began its run of championships with little size and reliance on three guards.
Still, Corona del Sol came into this season ranked No.1 in Division I by azcentral sports, pinning its hopes on small ball with Barcello, Henderson and Lee, all future NCAA Division I players.
But Corona del Sol never got out on its patented transition game that were the hallmark of its last four state championship teams.
Mesa bogged Corona del Sol into a halfcourt game for the most part. Corona del Sol had only 21 points by halftime with 12 of those coming on free throws.
“We wanted them to play against our man-to-man and shoot over us,” Burcar said. “They’re good. But we wanted to be in position to rebound.”