The last time the Palm Springs boys basketball team took the floor with Marina High School in last season’s opener, the Indians needed a game-ending buzzer beater to pull off the victory, 55-54.
Part luck, part skill.
Saturday night’s rematch, an Indians 67-47 repeat victory, was all skill.
Senior shooting guard John Rich led the Indians with 20 points, but Saturday night’s impressive non-league victory was by far a one-man show.
Palm Springs placed only one other player in double-figures – senior Deondre Hawkins followed with 12 – but the Indians up-tempo offense and astute passing in transition created plenty of opportunities for eight Indians to get involved, something coach Chris Howard said last year’s game against Marina was missing.
“We’ve got to play at this tempo for the rest of the year,” he said.
Howard’s goal with hosting the Desert Showcase was to help his Indians, along with five other teams from around the Coachella Valley, prep for the impending playoffs that begin next month. A total of 12 games in league play gives time for Howard’s Indians to fix mistakes and hone their playbook, but often times desert teams are quickly taken out of their comfort zone when playing teams from Orange County in the postseason.
Along with Palm Springs, both La Quinta and Shadow Hills beat their out-of-valley opponents Saturday, while Palm Desert, Twentynine Palms and Cathedral City recorded losses. Still, the local teams’ 3-3 record Saturday was much better than the 0-6 mark from a year ago.
“I think every team that came out of here is going to make the playoffs,” Howard said. “It was good to prep for the playoffs…and what better place than here? That’s what I like about this is it’s about us. It’s not about other teams.”
Still, Howard’s Indians played no perfect game Saturday. The pace he’d designed was slowed by a barrage of Palm Springs misses, a total of four-straight, to start Saturday’s contest. On the other end, Marina stormed out to take a 6-0 lead in the first two minutes of action.
Rich responded with eight of his own to position his team within two points at 10-8, eventually kick-starting an 23-5 run that bled into the start of the second quarter, fed by fluid, fast-paced transition basketball.
“I didn’t think we came out with intensity on defense,” Howard said. “They came out and slowed it down and got post-up after post-up. When we started upping the tempo, playing good defense and speeding them up, it was lights out.”
Each bucket in the run either came in the paint – a majority were fast-break layups – or corner 3-pointers created by Marina crashing the paint in transition and leaving a potent Palm Springs shooter open.
By the time the Indians headed into the locker room at halftime, they held a comfortable 38-24 lead that would reach 20 points before Marina ever made a bucket in the third.
A paltry 5-of-13 shooting from the charity stripe was nearly the only blemish on the stat sheet for the Indians.
Now, with the Indians’ final non-league game in the books before the postseason, Howard’s team can focus on adding to the team’s DVL championship banner that’s stayed bare since 2013.
“We want to take care of things in the DVL right now,” Howard said. “We haven’t won one since 2013, so our goal is to win a championship and give ourselves a good seeding. That’s why we play outside the desert.”