Entering play on Friday night, there looked to be a clear distinction in the Mission League boys’ basketball standings; the top four teams in Chaminade, Alemany, Loyola, and Crespi had all only lost one league game apiece, while the bottom three teams of Harvard-Westlake, Notre Dame, and St. Francis were a combined 0-9 against the upper group.
After Friday’s action was complete, the league ranks had become a little more interesting.
When a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer by Chaminade’s Jordan Ogrundian ’15 fell wide left of the basket, Harvard-Westlake’s upset was complete, as the Wolverine squad stunned the defending Division III state champion Eagles by a score of 75-72 in front of Chaminade’s notorious “The Cage” home crowd.
“It was probably the biggest game I’ve played in, the student section was wild, but we did the things Coach told us in the locker room that we had to do to win,” said guard Ali Iken ’17, who finished with 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting and six rebounds on the night.
Chaminade (15-3 overall, 2-2 in Mission League) made the game interesting up to the final horn, as a deep three-pointer from Ogundrian, who led the Eagles with 30 points in the game, cut the deficit to one point with 1.8 seconds to go.
However, a historically dominant fourth quarter from Alex Copeland ’15, who scored eight of his game-leading 33 points in the final three minutes, helped Harvard-Westlake fend off the fierce Chaminade rally, as the Wolverines maintained a lead for the entire fourth frame due to the Yale commit’s late-game heroics.
“The coaches told me to take over, to put the team on my back, and I just tried to do that as much as I could to get us a win,” said Copeland, who finished 14-for-17 from the field after being nominated as a candidate to the 2015 McDonald’s High School All-American Game earlier in the week.
Early on, it looked like the favored Eagles were going to take care of business. Chaminade began the game in a full-court press, and forced a few early Wolverine turnovers to take the initial advantage. Led by 10 first-quarter points from Montana commit Michael Oguine ’15, who ended up missing the game’s final 11 minutes due to a head injury in the third quarter, Chaminade had an 18-12 lead at the end of the first frame.
In the second quarter, Copeland and Iken began to take over offensively, as the Wolverines gradually chipped at the lead. The two guards, who combined for 24 points in the first half, got Harvard-Westlake the lead for the first time since the game’s opening minute, as the Wolverines held a 35-33 edge at the break.
Throughout the game, the Eagles played with a similar personnel to Harvard-Westlake, usually having four guards playing with one big man on the floor. Thus, Wolverine center Noah Gains ’15 saw a lot of University of Miami football commit Bar Milo ’15 and fellow football lineman Joel Loth ’15 in the paint, and credited the Wolverines’ success to Head Coach Greg Hilliard’s defensive adjustments.
“We changed our gameplan completely today; instead of playing help defense, we said ‘Look, they have three-point shooters, and we’d rather give up twos then a bunch of threes.’ So, sometimes I was the only one left to deny the ball in the paint, and it was hard, with a lot of boxing out and elbows, but obviously it worked,” said Gains, who pulled 10 rebounds in the game.
The second half was marred by poor officiating, as both teams’ players and coaching staffs consistently found themselves arguing at suspect calls; Chaminade was already into the “bonus” (which requires seven team fouls) within the first five minutes of the third quarter. Despite this, consistent scoring from Oguine and Ogundrian kept the Eagles afloat early in the quarter, until the former was knocked out in a scary moment for both teams.
After Carter Begel ’17 (11 points in the game on 3-for-5 shooting) hit two free throws to give the Wolverines a 44-43 lead midway through the third, Chaminade was trying to push the ball up the court for a quick response. Copeland stole a pass and headed to the basket for a layup, and Oguine ran at him from behind to go for the chase-down block; he wasn’t able to convert, as he collided at full-speed with the wall padding just behind the basket, and remained down for a full minute before being helped off the floor.
“He’s a really good player, and Chaminade rides with him, so it was definitely a big blow for them,” Copeland said about Oguine, who scored 14 points and pulled seven rebounds but didn’t play after suffering the head injury. “That’s part of the game, and we knew we had to just stay focused and work hard so that we could pull out the win.”
A three-pointer on the final possession of the third quarter by Copeland gave Harvard-Westlake a 52-50 lead going into the final frame. From there, the game only got more intense, as the emotions of the players were incensed by both the close score and the officiating flubs.
In the fourth, when Aaron Glazer ’17 was called for a traveling violation despite appearing to be pushed into his movement, “The Cage” fans were even willing to admit the error, humorously chanting at the head official to “keep his whistle.”
“The bench was live,” said forward Raymond Chung ’15, who didn’t play on Friday but was impressed by how much the team had invested into the game.
As the clock wound down, Copeland and Ogundrian continued to go at it, trading points on nearly every possession. Even as Ogundrian dominated offensively and Milo hurt the Wolverines with several offensive boards on his way to a 13-point and 12-rebound performance, the Eagles could never get the lead back, as Copeland’s dominance helped the Wolverines close things out for their first win over a favored team in league play.
“The crowd got me really hyped, it’s just an awesome feeling to play for them,” said Copeland, who also finished with four steals in a fine all-around effort. “I knew that whether I finished at the end or not, my guys would ride with me, which just gave me the extra confidence to hit those shots.”
“We played our hearts out and tried our best in those other two games [tight losses to Alemany and Crespi], but we never actually did what Coach told us to do. Today, he had a new gameplan, and he gave it to us right before the game; we came out and exectued, and we won,” Iken said.
Still, even after the final buzzer sounded, the fun wasn’t over yet. Some Chaminade fans and players felt that Ogundrian was fouled on his last-second attempt (Wolverine fans can see video of the play themselves via Liam Hyde’s ’17 post in the “HW Fanatics 14-15” Facebook group), and Milo came to the Harvard-Westlake side of the floor to get physical with some players. However, officials broke up the conflict before it got truly violent, and players dismissed the issue as emotion coming from good competition.
“He’s a nice guy; at the end of the game, your emotions get to you, especially with that football mentailty. He came over afterwards and high-fived all of us. Obviously your emotions get the best of you when the game is that tight, but at the end of the day he’s a good dude, strong player, and I wish the best of luck to him this season,” said Gains.
With the win, Harvard-Westlake moves to 11-6 overall and 3-2 in league, and moves past Chaminade into the fourth place slot. The Wolverines are off during the school’s semester break, and next play against rival and defending league champion Loyola (11-6 overall, 3-1 in league). Loyola swept the Wolverines last season and is currently ranked 22nd in California on MaxPreps, compared to 93rd for Harvard-Westlake.
Significant attendance is expected for the event, as this is the only regular season basketball game at Harvard-Westlake where paid tickets are required for attendance. Because the Wolverines are so young, with four of the top seven rotational players currently being sophomores after the season-ending injuries to Wolfgang Novogratz ’16 and Parsa Shoa ’16, Gains felt that Friday’s victory was crucial to emulate the intense environment of next week’s game.
“It was great to play with the atmosphere of ‘The Cage,’ one of the best student sections in the country, and we’re a young team so it was good to get this game before Loyola … the closeness, the tightness, the feeling that you’re with your brothers on the court, that was perfect for us,” he said. “We have momentum going into Loyola, and I really feel like we can get them.”
Tip-off will be at 7 P.M. on Jan. 23 in Taper Gymnasium, and tickets for students will be available in the athletic office on the bottom floor of Taper during the entire school week. In addition, the game will be live-streamed by HWTV at the following link: