The Grace Davis Spartans were rolling Saturday night. They had flipflopped an early 9-point deficit into a 7-point lead in the closing minutes of the first half.
Then they discovered the Manteca Buffaloes were more than just quicksilver point guard Kiwi Gardner.
With Gardner on the bench with two fouls, Manteca powered home the final eight points of the half to lead by 1, then pulled away in the second half to win 77-60 in the championship game of the 52nd Modesto City Classic.
"We had little opportunities slip away from us," Davis center Lance Castaneda said. "We had a chance."
True, but the player who shaped this 16-team event was Gardner, the 5-foot-9 junior with the quick moves and deadly shot. Though he and teammate Ernie Pimentel escorted the Buffaloes (4-0) through the title game with 20 points each, it was Gardner's 52 points — 24 during the fourth quarter and the overtime — Friday night against Pitman that became the event's talking point.
The 52 points are believed to be a tournament record, and so are his 115 points in four games.
"I most definitely surprised myself (with the 52 points)," Gardner said. "But I'm extremely proud of my teammates on how we came back."
Davis (4-1) grabbed temporary control during the first half by bothering Gardner. Donte Walker, a junior forward, energized the Spartans and accounted for 18 points, and Kory Johnson had 16 points before he fouled out.
In the end, Manteca's inside power, its seven triples and, of course, Gardner, were too much.
"We have a young team with some veterans," Davis coach Dan Pacheco said. "It was a great experience for us, and it's nice to see at 16-team tournament. It's also good to play good teams."
Gardner anchored the 10-man all-tournament team. Also honored were Justin Canatsy of Ceres, Jordan Kron of East Union, Dom Romeo of Pitman, Klayton Miller and Jordan Banks of Modesto, Abel Watts of Enochs, Johnson and Castaneda of Davis and Gerry Cooper of Manteca.
MODESTO 77, PITMAN 60 - The Panthers (3-2) took charge immediately with a 22-5 run and never trailed by fewer than 10 points, good for third-place honors. De Angelo Williams topped the Modesto attack with 14 points. Pitman, sobered after its OT loss to Manteca, featured Romeo with 21 points.
CERES 62, EAST UNION 55 — John Dhillon's 3-pointer with 3 minutes left broke a tie and sent the Bulldogs (3-1) to a come-from-behind win and the consolation title. Canatsy paced all scorers with 15 points, followed by teammates Dhillon and Vineel Kumar with 11 apiece..