Greg Burrell was pretty sure he knew who was going to get the ball for Foothill with the game on the line in the closing seconds Thursday night. So the Desert Pines junior decided he was the man to get the stop.
He was right.
Burrell’s smothering defense forced a miss by Foothill’s leading scorer, Zakary Abdalla, to help the Jaguars hang on for a 61-57 home win over the Falcons.
“I already knew who they were going to, so in the huddle, I was like, ‘I’ve got him. Right out of the gate, I’ve got him,’” Burrell said. “I take pride in my defense, and I believe I’m the best defender in the city. So I really just took pride and tried to get a stop, and I was successful.”
With Desert Pines (11-2, 2-0 Class 5A Southern League) leading 59-57, Foothill’s Christopher Natale blocked Evan Tatum’s shot, and the Falcons took a timeout with 23.1 seconds left.
They got the ball to Abdalla, who finished with a game-high 21 points. But Burrell was up to the test, challenging Abdalla’s driving attempt. Burrell then grabbed the rebound and did what players from both teams had struggled to do down the stretch — make two free throws, providing the final margin.
“You can’t teach a guy how to play hard,” Desert Pines coach Daimar Harris said. “That’s a God-given skill. And he’s very good at that. And the good energy is contagious to the other guys. They know we struggled in certain areas tonight that we’re normally good at. But his energy brought what we needed to close the game out.”
Burrell, an second-team All-Southern Nevada running back, brought that football mentality to the hardwood, relentlessly attacking the rim and crashing the boards. He finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.
The Jaguars came out on fire, nailing three transition 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the game to take a 17-2 lead.
But they cooled off from there, allowing the Falcons (10-6, 0-2) to hang around. Foothill took its first lead at 50-49 on a pair of free throws by Abdalla with 6:25 to go.
Abdalla tied the game at 56 on a drive with 2:57 to play. Desert Pines’ Damonte Duhart hit one of two free throws with 2:44 left to make it 57-56, and the Jaguars managed to hang on from there.
Foothill missed the front end of two one-and-one opportunities while trailing by a point, and the teams combined to go 4-for-12 from the line in the final 2:44 of the game.
“It happens,” Harris said. “We’ve been playing sharp the previous games, and it was almost like we were due for one. But they still found a way to get it done in the fourth quarter, for sure.”
Tatum scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half to help the Jaguars hang on.
“I wasn’t really too worried, because I know my team,” Burrell said of Foothill’s rally. “We put in a lot of work in practice for situations like this. We blew a big lead, but we just bounced back, we stayed together, we didn’t fight and came together to get out of here with the win.”
Abdalla had 16 rebounds, and Jahmon Haylock scored 12 for Foothill.