In a first-place battle of teams with similar strengths, experience and Hunter Johnson proved to be the difference for reigning Valley Oak League champion Sierra.
Johnson racked up 19 points and 15 rebounds, and 6-foot-8 Joshua Patton outdueled Manteca’s Anand Hundal in a 48-40 victory for the host Timberwolves.
Johnson scored eight straight points, including back-to-back 3s, in one stretch in the third to give Sierra its largest lead at 35-22.
“It’s just part of playing Sierra basketball, anyone can make plays at any time,” Johnson said. “The ball just so happened to be in my hands.”
A big part of Sierra basketball is defense. League opponents are averaging just 41.4 points against the Timberwolves (5-0 VOL, 16-2 overall), who held high-flying Modesto Christian to a season-low point total in a 43-28 loss on Saturday.
Manteca (4-1, 12-5) looked to buck trend early on and led 16-10 behind Tydus Verhoeven’s nine points. The 6-foot-7 sophomore guard finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and four blocks to lead the Buffaloes. They were outscored 13-4 in the second quarter and had just six points for a 15-minute span in the middle periods.
Sierra switched to a 3-2 zone defense, partially to protect Patton after he picked up two early fouls.
“Great start for us,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said. “We executed perfectly in the first quarter. They switched defenses on us and we weren’t prepared for it. A little bit of that is on me. A lot of teams have run that same defense against us and we have to be able to adjust.”
Patton ignited Sierra and the home crowd with two impressive dunks in the first half. While the Sacramento State-bound center typically gets his points with back-to-the-basket moves and put-backs, he showed that the ability to take a defender off the dribble on his second slam.
Coming out of a timeout, Patton was isolated on the right wing with Hundal guarding him one-on-one. Patton put the ball on the floor, spun to the middle and threw it down with both hands. Sierra led 21-18 with 3:18 left in the half and never trailed from there.
“That’s something my coaches have been working on that with me,” Patton said. “When I got the ball I knew I needed to go to the rack. I saw that it was wide open in the middle for the spin move.”
Patton ended up with 14 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Hundal, a 6-8 junior in the middle of a breakthrough season, was held to two points, six boards and three blocks.
“I think he put a lot into this game,” Lewis said of Hundal. “He wanted it bad, (but) he’s got to take it as just another game. He knew that Patton was the reigning MVP and that’s his goal. His shots weren’t falling early and started to force it a little bit. He’ll be alright. He’s still young and he’s still learning.”
Manteca’s Marcus Montano continued his strong start to league and contributed 10 points. Sierra relied mainly on its two bigs for scoring and had zero points from the reserves.
Coming off the loss to Modesto Christian, Sierra coach Scott Thomason expected a more complete effort out of his squad.
“We wanted to play for 32 minutes and I don’t know if we met our standard today,” he said.
The Timberwolves ended the contest in the same fashion they started and were held without a field goal for the final 2-plus minutes. Frankie Lopez and Ramon Gallardo nailed two 3s to give Manteca hope down 46-40 with a minute left. Jess Spivey sank two free throws with 15.7 to go to ice it for Sierra.
“We were not very smart at the end of the game,” Thomason said. “Too many quick shots and not matching up with their shooters on defense. Give Manteca credit, they kept playing — very good team.
“This is over with when we leave here and we’re on to the next one. There are a lot of games left and this is just something for us to build on.”
Sierra 54, Manteca 53
Brandon Arreola knocked down the deciding 3-pointer from the right wing with 13 seconds remaining, and Noah Ault helped secure the win with a blocked shot on a put-back attempt from Manteca.
Parmvir paced Sierra with 13 points, and Jamille Grady had 11. Matthew Ender poured in 16 to lead Manteca. Ascari Johnson added 13. Jose Garcia finished with nine points and gave the Buffaloes their only lead in the fourth quarter with a late layup.
Manteca 56, Sierra 42
The Buffaloes (5-0, 13-2) continued their unbeaten march through league with a strong second-half effort.
Cameron Reis spearheaded Manteca with 13 points off the bench. Kyle Reis contributed 10 points, and Gino Campiotti had eight. Jaime Ochoa, Jaylen Jackson and J.T. Ortiz-Martinez fired nine points apiece for Sierra.