Tyler Graves-Kelso threw his body into the stands, his hands into the passing lanes, and more importantly, he threw a perfect strike to Marcus Montano with the game on the line.
Graves-Kelso found Montano alone on the wing and the sharp-shooting senior buried the decisive 3-pointer with seconds left to lift No. 5 Manteca into the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III tournament with a 51-48 victory over No. 12 Lincoln.
Anand Hundal shook off early foul trouble to pace Manteca (21-6) with 16 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Graves-Kelso had nine points and fueled Manteca’s third-quarter charge with four steals — and nearly had a fifth when he vaulted himself into the second row of the bleachers.
“Defense won us this game,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said clutching bags for ice afterwards. “Our scouting reports won us this game.”
Montano scored eight of his 11 points in the second half, including five in the fourth quarter as the Buffaloes shored up a second-round date with another double-digit seed.
No. 13 Rio Americano upset No. 4 Cordova, 59-58, and will travel to Winter Gym on Friday.
The Buffaloes had their own issues on Wednesday. The Fighting Zebras (16-12) took on their mascot’s persona in this opening round tilt.
Lincoln buried four first-half 3-pointers, including shots at the end of the first and second quarters, and led by as many as 10 in the second half when the bumbling Buffaloes finally found their footing.
“We were trying to spread them out. We don’t shoot that many 3s, but we’re the 12 seed and they’re the 5,” said Lincoln coach Robert Ash, whose team connected on nine 3s. “And I was trying to do something a little different.”
It worked ... at least early on.
John Reyes scored nine of his 12 points in the first half and Mitchell Holt had 11 for Lincoln, which executed its game plan to near perfection in the first 16 minutes.
Lincoln turned Manteca over seven times in the second quarter and opened the frame on an 8-2 run to seize a 20-11 advantage. The Buffaloes went nearly six minutes without field goal and looked nothing like a No. 5 seed as they slumped into the locker room behind, 27-18.
Manteca was 4 for 22 in the first half and even worse, it seemed, closer to the rim.
The snapshots were forgettable: Tydus Verhoeven (six points, five assists) lost the handle on a dribble and was whistled for a charge; Montano threw a pass out of bounds; and Adrian Contreras was hit with a technical.
Manteca was unraveling against an opponent that had done its homework.
“(Ash) told me that he had five films on us. As soon as I knew that, I knew they did their homework,” Lewis said. “I told the guys, ‘They’ll know what we’re doing. Nothing is going to surprise them.’ And I think it showed.”
In the locker room at the half, Lewis challenged his team to play with greater energy.
Graves-Kelso and Manteca’s towering post answered the call.
“We were kind of pissed off,” said Graves-Kelso, the junior who willingly does all the “dirty work” for the Buffs. “Not that we weren’t trying. It’s just that we weren’t working hard enough. That’s what coach Lewis does; he teaches us to work hard all the time.”
Hundal and Verhoeven provided the book-end points in an 8-0 run. Verhoeven spun in the lane, releasing a feathery floater, while Hundal rattled home a one-handed dunk to cut Lincoln’s lead to 32-30.
Graves-Kelso would tie the game at 34-all minutes later and Montano would give the Buffaloes their first lead since the two-minute mark in the first quarter with a 3 from the corner.
Manteca outscored Lincoln 19-9 in the third and 33-22 in the second half.
“We knew we were better than what we showed in the first half,” Lewis said. “I challenged them there. I told them they have people here watching them. ‘You don’t want to be the 5 seed that gets upset by a 12. You don’t want that sitting on your shoulders.’ “
The Fighting Zebras would go down swinging and took their last lead on Reyes’ 3 with 2:18 left, 45-44.
Hundal answered immediately with a pair of free throws to make it 46-45, setting the stage for Montano’s heroics.
Following a turnover by Lincoln, Graves-Kelso collected the ball at the free-throw line with the shot clock winding down. He feinted a dribble toward the hoop, but instead kicked the ball out to Montano.
The clutch senior, who beat Central Catholic earlier in the season with a layup at the buzzer, laced his shot through the rim with 7.2 seconds left.
“We don’t know what it is, but in the fourth quarters he steps up,” Lewis said. “He’s the little silent assassin.”
Lincoln’s Jackson Sterling banked in a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left to make it 49-48, but Hundal sealed the win with a pair of free throws.