Lemoore High turned the Event Center into the Board Room on Thursday night, pounding rival Hanford inside to win 71-67 before a deafening crowd of 2,700 and march into the semifinals of the Central Section Division II boys basketball playoffs.
The second-seeded Tigers, behind Jaylunn English’s 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks, scored repeatedly following offensive rebounds while improving to 24-3 and setting up a rematch with No. 3 Memorial (25-4) back here on their home court Tuesday night.
The Panthers, who lost 66-56 to Lemoore in the Kings County Classic at Hanford on Dec. 10, are small and without a true center. And that doesn’t bode well against the 6-foot-7 English and a Tigers crew that outrebounded No. 7 Hanford 38-23.
“Rebounding was absolutely our main objective,” Lemoore coach Joel Sligh said nine days after losing 66-54 at home to Hanford in the West Yosemite League – the Tigers’ only loss in the conference while winning the title at 11-1.
“We got outrebounded by them last time,” he said, “and I took it as a personal offense. Rebound the basketball – game, point blank. We should never lose that.”
Memorial advanced with a 66-48 home-court rout of No. 6 Independence.
Lemoore, as displayed in bold purple letters on a board high on the gym’s east wall, has captured eight section titles in boys basketball – the first in 1926; the last in 1992.
Spencer Stinger and Matt Borba added 14 and 13 points for the Tigers, who trailed 49-44 in the third quarter after Hanford (19-8) made its eighth and ninth three-pointers by Juwuane Hughes and Ryan Johnson, who scored 20 points.
It was 62-60 Lemoore when English took over in a maddening sequence that thrust Tigers fans to their feet – a common occurrence on this night for both sides.
Johnson, a junior and The Bee’s Player of the Year in football as a quarterback, stole the ball, drove, spun 360 degrees and attempted a layup. It was rejected by English, who then banked in a deep three-pointer from the top of the key on the other end.
He then blocked yet another shot and followed it with a drive for a 67-62 lead with 2 minutes to go and Lemoore would remain in control.
“When Jaylunn English comes to play basketball, I recommend just getting out of the way because he’s a pretty determined young man when he wants to be,” Sligh said. “I don’t think we always get to see that out of him every time. But, man, when we do, he’s something special.”