By Ray Hamill — The Corsairs treated a packed house to a very entertaining conference opener against Butte in men’s basketball at College of the Redwoods on Saturday afternoon, overcoming a nine-point halftime deficit on the way to an 89-81 overtime victory.
The two heavyweights of this year’s Golden Valley Conference — and two top-20 teams in California — served up a thriller, with the CR men twice overcoming adversity to pull out their ninth straight win.
Not only did they overcome a slow start and a sizable halftime deficit, but just when it appeared as if they were cruising to victory in regulation, they saw an 11-point lead disappear after being held scoreless for the final two and half minutes of the second half.
Overtime, however, belonged to the Corsairs, who outscored the visitors 18-10 for the period thanks to some big late baskets by Drew Gillette and Isaac Puzz.
And once again, this team continues to display a resilient composure and a maturity beyond its years.
“The kids were so even keel at halftime,” head coach Ryan Bisio said. “They were super positive. We felt (Butte) had made their run, and we knew we hadn’t made ours.”
That confidence showed when the CR men outscored the Roadrunners 25-9 in the opening 12 minutes of the second half.
Donald Willis was instrumental in the rally, driving to the basket time and again to inspire his teammates and lift a loud home crowd.
During a four-week layoff leading into the game, Willis was switched to point guard in an attempt to open up more perimeter shooting opportunities for his teammates, and he appeared to relish his new role.
Afterwards Bisio had special praise for his decision making.
Gillette too was unstoppable driving to the basket, scoring a team-high 25 points, only six of them from 3-point range.
“When we got those matchups, we drove them hard,” Bisio said.
Donald Willis finished with 24 points, while Bradley Willis added 13 points, Puzz 10 and Thomas Nelson and Zac Claus eight each.
Puzz was particularly instrumental in the overtime rally.
“He made some big plays in overtime,” Bisio said of the former McKinleyville Panther. “He hit a 3, he assisted on a 3, and he got a layup. He just has such belief in himself and mental toughness.”
Bisio also praised the crowd and the atmosphere, which he described as “special.”
“The electricity was just outrageous,” he said.
It was too.
And it was something the players — including the bench — seemed to thrive on.
“They upped the ante,” Bisio said of his players. “The perseverance they have. the guts, the trust, the passion, is just out of this world.”
Perhaps more impressively, the win came against a powerhouse Butte team, and will serve as a statement of intent to the rest of the GVC.
It is, however, just the first step in what CR fans hope will be a championship season.
“In order for this win to mean as much as we want it to mean, we’ve got to back it up by going out and getting another win next week,” the head coach said.
The slow first half, according to Bisio, had more to do with Butte than any sluggishness on CR’s part after the long layoff.
“I thought Butte had an excellent game plan and defensively they executed it to perfection in the first half,” Bisio said. “I don’t think it was us playing poorly. I thought Butte played at a high level. They had supreme engagement.”
The Corsairs have scored 80 or more points in all nine wins on their current winning streak.
Next up, the Corsairs (1-0 in conference and 14-3 overall) travel to play at Feather River on Thursday and at Lassen next Saturday.
Butte dropped to 0-1 and 10-7.