Modesto High did a masterful job of shutting down Kory Johnson on Wednesday night, until it mattered the most.
With the score tied and the final seconds ticking away, the Panthers abandoned the middle just as Johnson was receiving a pass at the top of the key.
The 6-foot-1 power forward spun off a defender and, for the first time this night, had a open path to the basket.
He hit the layup, then the Spartans used some fine defense of their own on other end to escape with a 55-53 win over Modesto at Panther Palace.
"This is definitely one of the most difficult places we have to come to," said coach Dan Pacheco, whose Spartans (17-4, 4-0 Modesto Metro Conference) have won 12 straight games. "It has all of the tradition and they have very good basketball teams in here."
The Panthers (7-12, 2-2) played over their heads -- and over the Spartans' heads, as well -- to rally in the fourth quarter. Down 49-40 after Davis' Donte Scott (12 points, nine rebounds) hit a free throw with 5:51 to go, Modesto's 6-foot-3 Calvin Thomas hit back-to-back buckets on offensive rebounds.
Zach Hamman's trey made it 49-47 and the Panthers forged a 51-all tie on Aaron Washington's trey. The teams traded baskets, setting up Johnson's game-winner with 19 seconds to play.
Up until then, Modesto had used its physical front line to challenge every Davis drive to the basket. The Spartans sent their other four players well outside the key, drawing defenders to them. That left Johnson one-on-one with 6-4 Klayton Miller, and the situation favored the quicker Johnson.
Miller was behind from Johnson's initial move, and couldn't catch him.
Pacheco then used his guile to keep Modesto from setting up a shot. Since Davis had four fouls, and had three more to give before Modesto would go to the line, he had his team commit foul with 2.7 and 1.7 seconds to play.
That forced Deangelo Williams to quickly fire a 22-footer to beat the buzzer: It was predictably off-target.
"We lost our focus a few times out there, but I think playing in this gym, as loud as it can be, had something to do with it," Pacheco said. "It's always nice to get out of her with a win."
It was expected that Davis' win was going to set up a winner-take-all battle for first place Friday at Johansen, but the Vikings were stunned 65-61 by Downey and are now a game behind.
Modesto nearly matched that upset by holding Johnson to seven points -- 12 below his average. Scott hit his average with 12, but was four of 13 from the floor and had just one open look.
Davis got superb performances out of 6-3 forward Lance Castaneda inside (16 points, seven rebounds) and guard Laron Thompson (10 points).
"They were overplaying Dante and Kory, so I just kept attacking to keep our offense going," Thompson said.
It was enough to offset Modesto's physical advantage, and the play of 6-foot leaper Andre Barry (14 points, seven rebounds) and the 6-3 Williams (10 points, six rebounds).
There were times Modesto had four players at 6-3 or taller on the court.
"Tall teams give us trouble because they make it difficult to penetrate and that's a big part of our offense," Pacheco said. "Lance, though, he stepped in for us. Laron, too. It's great having kids come through like that."