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City College men’s basketball advances to semifinals with CCCAA playoff win

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City College guard Austin McCullough goes up for a 3-point shot against Santa Monica in a playoff game on March 14, 2019. (Eric Sun / Special to S.F. Examiner)

The City College of San Francisco men’s basketball team only hit 18-out-of-50 from the field on Thursday in the CCCAA quarterfinals, and shot 25-for-43 from the free throw line, but despite an overall ugly game, still managed to escape with a 67-63 win over Santa Monica, earning a trip to the CCCAA Final Four.

The Rams started the game with a powerful two-handed dunk by Walter Urbina that shook the rim, but the big play was not a harbinger of things to come. Santa Monica ran a full court press early that frustrated City College on offense. To make matter worse, the Corsairs hit big 3-pointers, and five minutes into the game, led 13-8.

Rams sophomore Austin McCullough, though, kept City College afloat, hitting a big three from the right corner on a kick out and turning it into a four point play by hitting the foul shot afterwards, cutting the lead to one.

Minutes later, McCullough drilled another three, this time on a kick out from Malcolm Johnson. McCullough, who has hit 49 percent of his threes this season, wasn’t finished. On the next possession, he hit another three, and converted another four-point play to tie things up at 24-24.

McCullough and the Rams got hot from three, hitting 5-of-8 in the first half, but so were the Corsairs. Guards Mekhi Kimble and Chastin Mouton hit big threes to keep their team in the game while City College’s inability to hit easy shots and free throws kept the Rams from running away with it. At the half, with Johnson — the conference MVP — held scoreless, City College trailed 42-41.

The Rams offense was anemic to start the second half, but Johnson would finally get his first basket three minutes in with a dunk. Still, it did little to ameliorate the stagnant offense. With 10 minutes left, City College faced its largest deficit, 59-50.

Thanks in part to tenacious defense from Johnson — who only scored five points — the Rams locked down Santa Monica, and kept the Corsairs from scoring for over five minutes.

Backup freshman guard Dale Currie helped lead the way, hitting two free throws to narrow the lead to seven, then forcing a steal and taking it coast-to-coast for the fast break basket to cut the lead to five, 59-54.

The very next defensive possession, Currie would force another steal and again burst down court.This time, though, was fouled, and promptly drilled both foul shots to cut the lead to three, 59-56.

Two minutes later, getting the ball at the top of the arc, Currie beat his defender with a quick first step and forced his way into the paint to get the basket.

McCullough — who had a game high 16 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the field and 4-for-6 from downtown — had been quiet most of the second half, but stepped up for his team at the ideal moment, hitting another big three the next possession to tie the game at 61-61.

City College received yet a huge break during the final minute. Tied 63-63, Santa Monica’s Kimble brought the ball up over half court, but once over, got trapped by the Rams defense and, in a moment of panic, called a timeout, even though his team had none left. The error earned his team a technical foul and gave two free throws to City College. Deschon Winston hit one of the shots to put his team up 64-63.

Over the next minute, the Rams were able to increase their lead to 67-63 before the final buzzer went off.

Despite winning, City College has a lot to work on if they want to end this weekend as the CCCAA championship for the second straight year. Usual standouts for the Rams, like Johnson, Winston and Urbina, had weak performances. Urbina ended with eight points on 2-for-5 shooting from the field, while Winston scored nine on 1-for-8 shooting while only hitting 7-of-13 free throws.

City College will play Citrus College on Saturday at a time to be determined. Citrus, the No. 2 seed from the south, beat College of the Sequoias earlier in the day, 70-59, and have a 25-6 record. With the win, the Rams now move to 30-1.

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