Corona del Sol's white-hot start was almost neutralized by poor decisions and cold shooting late on Thursday night at the opening games of the annual Visitmesa.Com Invite in Mesa.
Casey Benson scored a go-ahead layup with 2:30 left and the Aztecs sank six of six free throws in the final 96 seconds to stave off St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.), 69-66, at Mountain View High School.
Corona (9-0), which connected on its first eight shots of the game in racing to an 18-4 lead and mostly double-digit advantage in the first half, hung on for dear life in the final five minutes to remain unbeaten. The Aztecs missed a lot of shots in the paint, many on second-chances that could have made most of the final four minutes irrelevant. Add to that more determined play of St. John Bosco's Daniel Hamilton and Tyler Dorsey after intermission and the Aztecs were somewhat fortunate to hang on. Dorsey scored 27 points (26 in the second half) and Hamilton finished with 20.
"We didn't play real smart at a couple stages late in the game," Corona del Sol coach Sammy Duane Jr. said. "We were able to rely on the experience of knowing how to win at the end to get it done. I think our depth really helped us down the stretch. We made plays and free throws when we had to have them."
Corona took a 37-26 lead to intermission, a half in which the Aztecs shot 58 percent from the field. However, four minutes into the second half St. John Bosco (6-4) had sliced the margin to 42-37. The Braves kept the deficit the same until the five-minute mark when they pushed even closer. Dorsey scored six straight points during a two-minute stretch that gave St. John Bosco its first lead, 60-59, with 2:37 left.
Benson responded after a Corona time out driving the baseline for his final basket that put the Aztecs ahead to stay, 61-60. Two free throws by teammate Jarrett Givens made it 63-60 with 1:36 left.
St. John Bosco called time and emerged from the time out facing a zone Corona hadn;t played the entire game. It produced a turnover and two bad three-point attempts. The Aztecs Dane Kuiper benefitted from one of those misses, taking a long pass from Benson for an easy layin and a 65-60 cushion with 42 seconds left.
"We went to the zone because they were hurting us with penetration," Duane Jr. said. "We didnt want them to keep doing that so we felt zone was the best at the end."
Zone of not, it wasn't quite the end of St. John Bosco. Dorsey sank a 3 with 32 seconds left to make it 65-63. Corona's Russ Davis answered with two free throws for a 67-63 edge with 23 seconds left. Corona then ended up fouling Hamilton from 3-point range and the Connecticut-recruit made three free throws to make it 67-66 with 11.4 seconds left.
Benson was fouled with 9.7 seconds to go and made both free throws for a three-point lead. Benson finished with 26 points. St.. John Bosco had a final chance with six seconds left. Hamilton ended up shooting a long three right of the key that was well short and grabbed by Corona as time expired.
Benson had plenty of help as usual offensively from his mates. Center Connor MacDougall tallied 13 points, Kuiper had 12 and Givens chipped in 11.
In the first game of the night, Mesa Mountain View pounded Salpointe, 76-50, with a balanced attack that saw six Mountain View players sink at least one three.