By Carlos Alvarez
Men’s basketball forward Aaron Cheatum could only sit and watch as Citrus forward Chris Reyes grabbed the final rebound and began the celebration for Citrus College.
“It hurts to lose man. It hurts to lose at home. It was a good run, I wish I could’ve done more,” South Coast Conference North Division Player-of-the-Year, Cheatum said.
Citrus College, the No. 11-seed, defeated East Los Angeles College, the No. 6-seed, coming away with an 86-81 double overtime thriller.
It was a back and forth battle between two of the best players in their respective conferences, Cheatum and Western State Conference South Division Most Valuable Player Reyes, but in the end it was the best team that won.
“To be honest they outplayed us today. They beat us. Nothing you can do,” a dazed and confused Cheatum said, after the game.
“Cheatum will go down as one of the best in ELAC basketball history. His leadership and work ethic is like no other. He carried this team today. We will miss him,” ELAC Head Coach John Mosley said.
With the win Citrus, 16-8 overall, moves on to the Regional semifinals, where they will face Mt. San Jacinto College (24-4)
“It was a great game. Our confidence is high right now. We came in here and pulled off a great win,” Reyes said.
Cheatum fouled out of the game with 30.8 seconds left in the second overtime with ELAC down 80-78.
With Cheatum on the bench, Citrus took full advantage of the smaller ELAC lineup. Citrus pounded the ball inside, getting fouled while converting four straight free-throws to seal the game.
Citrus dominated on the defensive and offensive side of the ball, jumping to a ,41-33, halftime lead behind the tandem of Reyes and shooting guard Daniel Cheek.
Reyes was a force inside, scoring 12 first-half points against the smaller interior ELAC defense of Cheatum and forward Zach Hinton.
Cheek was effective from the outside adding 12 points in the first half.
“He (Reyes) is a great player. He is one of the best players in Southern California. We tried to keep him off the post, but he came to play,” Mosley said.
ELAC was lead by Cheatum who took it upon himself to keep the Huskies close. Cheatum had a season-high 27 points,17 rebounds (six offensive), and five blocks.
Coming out in the second half ELAC made some defensive adjustments that denied the ball from going inside the paint.
“We didn’t want to lose man. We knew that we had to come out fighting in the second half. Our defense improved as the game went on,” Hinton said.
The difference in the game was missed free-throws and turnovers by ELAC in crucial moments of regulation and overtime.
ELAC had 22 turnovers that resulted in 19 points for Citrus. ELAC shot 61.5 percent (8-of-13) from the charity-strike in the second half and overtime, after shooting and efficient 85.7 percent (6-of-7) during the first half.
With a chance to put ELAC up by two with less than a minute remaining, forward Te’shon Burton went to the line connecting only two out of four free throws in consecutive possessions.
“We had a chance to win it in the end, but we don’t play the what if’ game. We fought to the end and that’s all we can do,” Cheatum said.
With the game heading into the second overtime, tied at 70, Citrus began to move the ball around.
“ELAC tried to take away our inside game, but we have great shooters from the outside. We had some open shots and we made them (ELAC) pay,” Cheek said.
The biggest shot came by Citrus guard Steven Polee Jr., who hit a three-point shot that gave Citrus an 82-78 lead with 15 seconds left in the game.
“It was a big shot. We moved the ball inside and then Chris found him open at the top of the key. He missed one earlier, but he made it up for it bigtime. Clutch shot, gave us some breathing room,” Citrus head coach Chris Victor said.
A week after capturing their first Conference title in 42 years, ELAC will have to replace two of their starters, but will have a number of key players returning.
“It was a great season after capturing our conference title, but I felt that we could have gone a little deeper (in the playoffs). It’s an empty feeling. Our guys played their hearts out, we just came up short. We are losing some guys, but we have some key players returning” Mosley said.