Phoenix Shadow Mountain won its 70th consecutive game against Arizona competition and put itself back into the national tournament Saturday, following the most improbable script.
Trailing a .500 team that got a midseason reboot from a sophomore guard, Shadow Mountain, ranked sixth nationally by USA Today, trailed by 22 points in the third quarter, and 17 to start the fourth.
Enter Jaelen House.
House, playing with passion and a controlled reckless abandonment, sparked a 32-11 run in the final eight minutes to close out Tucson Salpointe Catholic for an 83-79 victory and Shadow Mountain’s second consecutive 4A boys basketball state championship at GCU Arena.
“We were not playing our game,” House said about the early hole. “We were playing very selfish. In the second half, we played as a team and came out with a W.”
House finished with a double-double for the ages: 30 points and 14 steals.
His emotional style got him in trouble in last year’s state-championship rout of Salpointe, as he got ejected and was not allowed to play iin the Dick’s National in New York, where Shadow Mountain lost in the first round to Florida powerhouse Montverde Academy.
House will be let loose this time in New York. Shadow Mountain (25-1) is expected to receive the official invitation on Monday.
House picked up his fourth foul on a technical with 13 seconds left. But it came after he outfought heralded junior recruit Majok Deng for a rebound on House’s missed free throw. Deng fouled House on the play. Deng also was given a technical, which was his fifth, fouling him out.
House calmly sank the free throws, and coach Mike Bibby, House’s uncle, took him out of the game with his team in front 83-77.
“We started playing our defense,” said Bibby, who won Shadow Mountain’s first state title in 1996 as a senior point guard and now has four state titles since 2014 leading the Matadors from the bench. “The guys turned it around.
Bibby, who helped lead the University of Arizona to its only national championship as a freshman in 1997 before spending 14 years in the NBA, called it the best comeback he has ever been involved in.
“I told the guys, ‘I don’t think we’ve ever been down at halftime,’ ‘ Bibby said. “For them to keep fighting, playing together and trying to get the crowd involved, it was a great feeling.”
Everybody knew Salpointe (15-16) needed its stars, Deng and sophomore point guard Evan Nelson, to have huge games to keep Salpointe in contention. Nelson became eligible midway through the season and turned the Lancers’ fortunes. They went 12-1 down the stretch with him. But because Shadow Mountain was paying so much attention to those two, it forgot about backup guard Orion Ochoa and junior wing Luc Rosenblatt, one of the state’s best setup shooters. Ochoa had 15 points in the first half when Salpointe built a 45-31 lead. Rosenblatt nailed four of his six 3-pointers in the second half. His 3 with a little more than five minutes left in the third quarter gave Salpointe a 54-32 lead.
To end the first half, Salpointe’s Andrew Jacobs hit a 3, as the Lancers shot 56 percent in the half. Salpointe made 9 of 18 3s in the game.
“You have nights like that, but I’ll take those nights, instead of our guys not playing hard,” Bibby said. “Some people were wondering how Salpointe was in the championship game. I told them that’s why Salpointe is in the championship, we’re down 20 points.”
Momentum began to shift after Nelson picked up his fourth foul with seven minutes left in the third quarter. He didn’t return again until halfway through the final quarter, when Shadow Mountain got within 11. Nelson had been so good, before this game, but he finished with eight points, seven rebounds, three assists and nine turnovers.
In the last 4:24, House really took off, finishing plays at the other end after steals that he wasn’t doing in the first three quarters. His floater with 4:20 to play got Shadow within single digits, 73-65. In the last 2:30, House scored nine points, with back-to-back steals igniting a 14-3 run.
“We were down to Findlay (Prep) like this in Florida,” said wing Jalen Williams, who had 11 points. “We knew what it was like. We just had to just take pride in our defense and get defensive stops.
“I spoke to the team and said, ‘We have to get back to Shadow Mountain basketball.’ We did it. In the third quarter, we started rolling. And in the fourth quarter, we got back to us.”
Shadow Mountain took its first lead since the first quarter after a House steal and two free throws by House with 1:44 to play, giving the Matadors a 75-74 lead. Less than a minute later, Jovan Blacksher drove and found Immanuel Allen under the basket for a layup. Allen was fouled on the play and he converted a three-point play with 59 seconds left for a 78-74 lead. Allen had 15 points and four blocks.
Salpointe outrebounded Shadow Mountain 38-25 with Deng (12 points) grabbing nine. But Shadow Mountain forced 32 turnovers, 19 in the second half.