After a stellar season, City College could not prevail against a tough Fullerton College team in the CCCAA state championship in Ventura.
In a game marked by 66 personal fouls, the Rams struggled from the field and the free throw line, losing their bid to repeat as state champions, 85-79.
“We had a shaky start,” City College head coach Justin Labagh said. “We tried pressure and it failed quite a bit. They did a great job of turning our pressure into their offense.”
The Rams hit only 25-of-74 from the floor, and were 19-of-31 at the free throw line in the loss, and never were able to recover from an early hole. Fullerton started the game by getting to an early 7-0 lead. The Hornets led the entire game and their physicality caused problems for City College early and often.
The Rams tried to get the ball down low but had trouble getting clean looks in the post. Instead, City College had to rely on shooting from outside, but only made 10-out-of-37 3-pointers.
“Too many contested shots. I don’t know if it was nerves,” Labagh said. “We are not a great shooting team. We have to make the extra pass. We took a lot of nervous half-shots and since we took them early we didn’t give ourselves a good chance to position for the rebound.”
Freshman guard Dale Currie tried to provide the spark his team desperately needed. Currie had gotten into foul trouble the day before, during the Ram’s 82-76 overtime win over Citrus College, but avoided getting called too much against Fullerton. Currie led his team in scoring with 21 points, including 7-for-15 from the field and 5-of-11 from downtown, and put up points when his teammates were cold.
“Dale is really tough. He is the smallest guy on the team but he never backs down,” Labagh said. “I fell in love with him when I saw him in high school. I said, ‘I need this guy,’ He is a guy you can go to war with. He gave us a chance,”
Fullerton’s star big man Ronne Readus got into foul trouble early, which should have helped open up the lane for scoring, but City College couldn’t capitalize. The CCCAA’s Coast-North Player of the Year, Malcolm Johnson, had some success in the paint for the Rams, but teammates Walter Urbina and Emeka Udenyi, the star of the win against Citrus, had no luck. Urbina finished with only 3 points on 0-of-4 shooting while Udenyi had 5 points on 2-for-5 shooting.
The Rams were down 41-37 at the break and once the second half began, they faced a Fullerton offensive onslaught. Guard Jailen Moore made back-to-back threes and helped increase his team’s lead to 49-37.
City College had a little luck go its way when Readus was ejected from the game. Readus, who already had four fouls, was sitting on the bench but was called for a technical when he made the decision to get up and yell in Rams guard Austin McCullough’s face. Four Fullerton players — Readus, Dylan Banks, Vaj Rice and Omajae Smith — would eventually be ejected for personal fouls, but the Rams were never able to capitalize. City College’s Johnson, McCullough and Urbina would all leave, too.
Johnson racked up his second straight double-double with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting, with 11 rebounds. McCullough scored 11 on 3-for-10 shooting, including only 1-of-7 from three, a disappointment for a sharpshooter who hit 49 percent of his attempts from deep this season. Fellow Cal transfer Deschon Winston scored 13 on 4-for-15 shooting.
The Hornet’s star for the game was undoubtedly Rodrick McCobb. The 6-foot-5 sophomore led the game with 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including 2-for-3 from three, and made 5-of-7 free throws. McCobb was able to score in a variety of ways, drilling fadeaways and also beating defenders off the dribble and then driving hard to the hoop.
With nine minutes left, City College was able to narrow the Hornet’s lead to only five, with the score at 58-53, but whenever the Rams would get within in striking distance, the Hornets would increase their margin in response.
In the final minutes of the game, City College had to start fouling Fullerton so the clock wouldn’t keep ticking, but Fullerton was hot from the free throw line, making 36-of-46 free throws.
Currie would try to propel his team to victory one last time, making three treys in the final minute of the game, but it was all for naught. As the final buzzer went off, the score was 85-79, and while Fullerton celebrated winning a championship, City College had to walk off to the locker room.
The loss was only the second one of the season for City College, who finished with a 31-2 record. The loss denied Labagh a fourth state title.
Sophomores McCullough, Winston, Johnson, Alec Check, Austin Harris, and Kolman Kelly will be leaving. The rest of the team are freshmen but it is highly likely that some of them, players like Currie, Urbina and Udenyi, will receive scholarships to four-year schools and depart.
“The Junior College end of the year speech is always easier,” Labagh said. “It is not like high school or four-year college where a lot of the guys will never play again. Most of them will play elsewhere, so it isn’t as tough,”
City College always does a good job of restocking talent and Labagh expects to be competitive next year.
“We have some real good recruits on the line,” Labagh said. “Plenty of guys who can help us be here next year.”