Birmingham boys basketball edges Taft in drama-filled West Valley League battle

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LAKE BALBOA — Nick Halic and Derrick Taylor go way back.

Halic, the head coach of the Birmingham boys basketball team, used to play against Taylor’s Taft teams when he was a student-athlete.

Taylor had a direct impact on Halic, who learned from watching Taylor coach and playing against his teams in high school.

So when things got heated in overtime of a thrilling West Valley League matchup between the Patriots and the Toreadors at Birmingham Friday night, which the Patriots won 81-77, the two coaches calmed their teams down and then met in front of the scorer’s table for a hug and a laugh.

“He said to me, ‘Hell of a game, huh?’ Halic said with a smile. “The respect I have for coach Taylor is immense. I know his kids were going to be hyped for this game and we’re going to go over there hyped for that game. I have a ton of respect for him and it’s always going to be like that.”

From the opening tip until the final buzzer in overtime, the game was tight, with neither team gaining a significant advantage for long.

Kensie Jr follows up the 3-ball with a monster dunk @Tarek_Fattal pic.twitter.com/lfwRxA4BXK

— Dan Lovi (@LoviSports) January 21, 2023

Taft’s Alexander Bothast opened the contest with a corner 3-pointer, followed by back-to-back buckets by Birmingham’s Naseef Lubowa, setting the tone for the back-and-forth contest.

Taft carried a five-point lead into the second quarter, which was the largest lead for either team in the first half.

Birmingham’s defense kicked it into high gear in the third quarter, forcing Taft into multiple turnovers which led to a nine-point advantage, the largest of the game.

The Toreadors fought back in the fourth quarter behind the offensive prowess of senior Keyon Kensie Jr. and sophomore Adam Grissom. Kensie Jr. finished the night with a game-high 24 points and Grissom added 21 points, 15 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Grissom’s 3-pointer at the buzzer sent the game to overtime.

Adam Grissom nails the 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left and we’re headed to OT between Birmingham and Taft, tied 69-69 @Tarek_Fattal pic.twitter.com/v6yoYLbOgK

— Dan Lovi (@LoviSports) January 21, 2023

The Patriots were led by a balanced attack with four players scoring in double figures. Lubowa had a team-high 22 points, Caleb Newton scored 18 points, Tyson Jackson finished with 16 points and Kory Blunt scored 12 points.

Newton’s two free throws with three seconds left in overtime sealed the victory for Birmingham.

“Any night somebody can get you. That’s why we’ve been able to do what we do,” Halic said. “You got to sacrifice. A lot of these kids could be the man somewhere else and they come here to play with each other. They are unselfish, they pass it, pick each other up, play for each other.”

The energy in the gym was electric minutes before tip-off, and the crowd gradually got louder as the game went on.

It was nearly impossible to hear the final buzzer go off as the fans drowned out the sounds on the court and then gathered to celebrate with the Birmingham players.

Lubowa cashes in from beyond the arc to give Birmingham a 40-37 lead over Taft at the half @Tarek_Fattal pic.twitter.com/vWCaSboatf

— Dan Lovi (@LoviSports) January 21, 2023

“You show me a public school in the Valley that has a better crowd than us,” Halic said. “They played super super hard, and Taft did too. I’m just excited for them. We’ll let them have fun tonight and focus tomorrow.”

Birmingham will play at Taft for the final time this season on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., which will likely determine the West Valley League champion. Birmingham is in sole possession of first at 4-0, Taft is in second at 3-1, Cleveland and El Camino Real are in third at 2-2, Granada Hills is 1-3 and Chatsworth is 0-4.

MORE WEST VALLEY LEAGUE ACTION

Cleveland 61, Granada Hills 59: Kamari King scored 16 points and Justin Rosenbaum added 17 in the Cavs’ league victory. Cleveland is 2-2 in league play under the guidance of first-year coach Dagem Asfaw. Noah Ramirez and Zander Hollie each scored 17 for Granada Hills.

El Camino Real 78, Chatsworth 70: Quian Khawaja scored 30 points for ECR. Freshman Alijah Arenas tallied 38 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the loss.

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