The visiting Wolverines opened a 61-40 lead through three quarters and held off a Freedom charge in the final quarter to deal the Falcons to their first home loss of the season. As they have all season, guard Kendall Smith (21 points) and center Marcus Lee (16) led Deer Valley in scoring.
“It’s a big win,” Smith said. “Every win for us is a big win. We’re just trying to stay focused on our goal, which is the state championship. Whoever we’re playing, that’s who’s going down that night.”
The Wolverines controlled the game from the opening tip, posting a 25-13 lead at the end of the first quarter. While the Falcons fought back in the fourth quarter, they didn’t cut the deficit to one possession until senior guard James O’Neal sank a three at the buzzer.
O’Neal led Freedom in scoring, matching Smith’s 21 points. Senior guard Sam Bide and junior swingman Elliot Smith each scored 14 for the Falcons, but it wasn’t enough to extend their four-game winning streak. The loss dropped Freedom’s record to 4-1 – second in the BVAL.
“That’s a really tough team,” said Deer Valley head coach LeChet Phillips. Freedom is going to be right there in NCS, and will likely be in NorCal as well. “They go really deep. We had to make sure that if we were going to get them, we got them early.”
Deer Valley’s greatest advantage was the Kentucky-bound Lee. The Falcons displayed their athleticism, playing above the rim for much of the game, but had a hard time generating second- and third-chance points against the 6-foot-9-inch center. Freedom made seven three-pointers in the game, but six came in the fourth quarter when the Wolverines had already established a big lead.
Hoping to secure a high seed in the North Coast Section playoffs, Deer Valley (17-4, 5-0) is now in control of its own destiny in league play. The Wolverines will continue their march to the postseason Feb. 1 when they host Pittsburg to open the second part of the league schedule.
“I’m definitely comfortable with where my team is,” Lee said. “We fight hard. We don’t have the best skill, but we sure as hell will fight. I’m proud of them.”
Freedom returns to the court Feb. 1 to host Liberty at 5:30 p.m.