PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Tyler Jennings
wanted the ball at the end. Not to make a Kobe Bryant-esque impossible game-winning shot. He just wanted to get fouled.
The Capital Christian (Sacramento, Calif.)
senior guard made 10 straight free throws, four in final 20 seconds to lead the Northern California small-school power Cougars to a 48-42 MaxPreps Holiday Classic Invitational Division quarterfinal upset over previously unbeaten and No. 16 nationally ranked Etiwanda (Calif.)
at Rancho Mirage High School.
Clutch free-throw shooting is nothing new to Jennings, who made the game-winning free throw to win a Sac-Joaquin Section title last season. Then he drilled three straight free throws to send a Gridley Tournament game into overtime and ultimately a victory.
On Friday, none of his four final free throws even touched iron. Jennings finished with a team-high 12 points, fellow senior guard Uchenna Iroegbu
and Michigan-bound forward D.J. Wilson
had 11 apiece. Wilson, 6-8 forward, added a game-high 10 rebounds for the 13-1 Cougars.
Etiwanda (12-1), which played almost all the game without No. 44 national recruit Jordan McLaughlin
(injured left shoulder), was led by 12 points from Dominick Alexander
and 10 by Kameron Edwards
. The Eagles made just 14 of 44 shots) and 3-for-19 from the 3-point line.
Capital Christian didn't exactly light it up from the field either (10 of 31), but it drilled 23 of 28 from the line, led by Jennings, who also had a game-high five assists.
"He's got ice in his veins," Iroegbu said of Jennings. "We want him on the line."
They game wasn't pretty, but both teams played tough defense, especially Capital Christian, which didn't allow a point for more than five minutes in the fourth quarter. During that spell, Iroegbu, a lightning quick 6-foot senior, made a tough driving layup and two free throws to give his team a 42-38 lead with 1:20 left.
After Alexander hit a free throw, Jennings made two to go up 44-39, before Elijah Johnson drilled a 3-pointer for Etiwanda to cut the deficit to 44-42. Once again Jennings went to the line and swished two free throws with 15.1 seconds left to clinch it.
The victory helped erase a tough St. Hope Tournament loss to Centennial last week and give the Cougars confidence moving forward in the 24-team national tournament. Capital Christian will play the winner of Westchester versus St. Edward winner Saturday in the semifinals.
"I'm glad my teammates trust me in those situations but I think we all trust each other in every situation," Jennings said. "This is a huge win because they are obviously a very good team with a lot of talent. We just played for each other in the second half."
Etiwanda, as its done most of the season, squandered a halftime lead, this time 25-17. Capital Christian scored eight quick points and the game see-sawed most of the rest of the way.
"This is a big win for Northern California and especially the Sacramento area which doesn't get a lot of respect," Iroegbu said. "This is a big win for our city."