With the Lemoore High boys basketball season ticking away, Tigers star Jaylunn English buried his head in his hands from the bench.
He didn’t want to see it. Didn’t want to believe it.
Lemoore’s memorable 2015-16 run was over and so was English’s remarkable career.
Long Beach Poly – runner-up for the Southern Section Division 1AA championship but seeded 10th in the Southern California Regional Division II bracket – came into Lemoore’s crowded and loud gym and pulled out a 70-59 victory Wednesday in an opening-round game.
“It's hard,” English said, his eyes puffy and red. “I’m never going to get to play with these guys ever again. I love my team. It’s very hard.”
English had done as much as he could in finishing with a game-high 22 points and 14 rebounds, along with two steals and a block while contesting many other shots.
But the 6-foot-7 senior couldn’t keep Poly off the glass by himself as the Jackrabbits racked up 15 offensive rebounds and generated 11 second-chance points, including seven in the pivotal third quarter.
Lemoore (26-4) went from trailing by four at the half to down 10 going into the final quarter and never cut the deficit to single digits again.
“It never really seemed like their big guys were getting all the rebounds,” Lemoore coach Joel Sligh said. “But their third, fourth guy was getting that rebound.
“That starts to wear on you. You’re doing your job on your guy. But then another guy comes after you and gets the board, it gets tiresome. I could see the look on my bigs’ face that they were getting worn down.”
Poly (21-10), seeking its first state title since 1984, outrebounded Lemoore 44-32
Burly 6-foot-6 center Zafir Williams, the benefactor of putbacks with English often leaving him to contest shots in the lane, finished with 21 points.
Drew Buggs, an aggressive 6-foot-3 guard who has signed with Hawaii, also had 21 points, mixing drives to the basket with three-pointers.
“That’s probably our best offense: Shoot the ball, get the rebound, put it back up,” Poly coach Shelton Diggs said.
Poly drained five of its first 11 three-pointers in the first half while facing Lemoore’s 2-3 zone.
After the Jackrabbits scored on a backside lob to start the second, the Tigers went man to prevent the backdoor passes and extend their defense.
That played right into Poly’s favor. The Jackrabbits attacked the basket, crashed the boards, made English come off his man to challenge shots and created easy offensive rebound opportunities or dish-off passes for layups.
“Our guys actually felt like man-to-man has been our best defense all year long so they felt like they wanted to go with something to put more ball pressure,” Sligh said. “Hindsight, I think an early timeout and re-establishing our 2-3 would’ve been better.”
Diggs, nonetheless, left impressed with Lemoore.
Especially with English, who is expected to play at a junior college next season.
“That kid is good,” Diggs said. “Jaylunn English is as good as anybody we’ve played this year.
“Nobody knows about him. We didn’t know about him until today. We know about him now. He’s very good.”