COAL CENTER – Down by as many as 14 points in the first half, Charleroi stormed back to defeat California, 58-56, at the buzzer Saturday in the Trojan Tip-Off boys basketball championship game.
“The guys were resilient,” said an ecstatic Charleroi coach Bill Wiltz. “There was a discussion at halftime and we talked about defensive pressure, taking care of the ball and the guys played well in the second half.
“We had 13 turnovers in the first half and we were able to counter (California’s) length.”
California coach Aaron Balla said his team’s confidence was shaken in the second half.
“We played well early, but when Charleroi hit a few shots in the third the guys had some doubts,” he said. “Our pressure early was good and I think defense will be our strength throughout the season.”
After California’s Payton Conte tied the game with 33 seconds to go after hitting a corner three-pointer, Wiltz called a timeout with 17 seconds to play.
The Cougars worked the clock and Zak Usher put up a baseline shot with four seconds left. The shot bounced off the rim and Legend Davis crashed the offensive boards and tipped the ball in to give the Cougars the winning points on his first game-winning shot.
“Zak was behind the backboard when he shot it and I don’t know how he got it in the vicinity of the rim,” said Davis. “I was lucky to be in the perfect place and I knew it was going in as soon as I tipped it. This is exhilarating.”
Wiltz praised Davis.
“He is an athlete,” Wiltz said. “He is our X-factor and he is going to win a lot of games for us.”
The Trojans called a timeout with 2.4 seconds to go after Davis’ tip, and Jaeden Zuzak heaved a half-court shot that banked off of the backboard at the buzzer.
Early on, it looked as if California would cruise.
Trailing 7-5 midway through the first quarter, the Trojans went on a 13-3 run to close the frame and a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Zuzak gave the hosts an 18-10 lead.
California’s stifling defense in the second quarter forced seven Charleroi turnovers and the Trojans used a quartet of three-pointers to extend their lead to 34-23 at the half.
The halftime talk from Wiltz woke the Cougars up as they hit four three-pointers in the quarter and outscored the Trojans 22-9 in the frame to take a 45-43 lead into the fourth.
Joe Caruso paced Charleroi with 20 points. Zak Usher scored 14 and Davis finished with 11.
Wiltz was happy to see Caruso bounce back from an off night Friday.
“He had a terrible game yesterday and asked me to get into the gym this afternoon to get some shots up,” he said. “We were there for about an hour to try and figure things out and thank God he did.”
Caruso said the shootaround helped.
“Today felt way better,” he said. “The stroke was on.”
Malik Ramsey led California with 20 points, Conte finished with 16 and Nate O’Savage had 10.