Juwon Epperson caught the ball just in front of the Pacheco bench and immediately fired for the basket.
The Pacheco senior drilled the 28-footer, his fourth of the third quarter, and turned to the Panther faithful with a look of, “Are you not entertained?”
It would be tough not to be with the show Epperson put on after the break on Friday night. His 16-point third-quarter outburst helped Pacheco open up a double-digit lead that the Panthers would never relinquish in a 68-61 victory over crosstown rival Los Banos.
“I was hot,” said Epperson, who finished with a game-high 23 points and five steals. “We wanted that win. It was our last game ever against the Tigers and we wanted to go out winners.
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“My teammates kept feeding me and I kept shooting. We didn’t even run the offense in the third quarter. Once we got going, we were just trying to score as many points as possible.”
The third-quarter shootout was a stark contrast to the low-scoring opening half.
Neither team could get much going offensively as Pacheco (10-13, 4-7 Western Athletic Conference) took a 21-16 lead into the break. The two teams almost doubled that score in the third quarter alone.
“We preach shooting,” Panthers coach Tyrell Jenkins said. “We’ve kind of lived and died with it all season, but when we get hot, we can go on big runs.
“Juwon has been our guy all year. When he gets hot, he’ll put up some crazy shots that I’m usually yelling ‘no’ to, but he believes he can make all of them and his teammates feed off of him.”
That appeared to be the case Friday as Octavio Jimenez (21 points) and Libby Velasquez (12) began to heat up in the third as well.
Epperson even seemed to get the Los Banos (9-15, 2-9 WAC) offense going out of sheer necessity.
Brevin Welch drilled five threes and scored 16 of his game-high 23 points after the break, but Pacheco still went into the fourth quarter with a 45-31 lead.
The Tigers refused to go away quietly, drilling six three-pointers in the fourth quarter and extending the game with fouls.
LB could never put a major run together, however. Justin Delgado’s (11 points) trey with 5 seconds left cut the lead to 67-61, but that was as close as the Tigers would get.
Pacheco converted 10 of 15 free throws in the fourth quarter to complete the season sweep of its local rivals.
“We shot pretty well in the second half, but it was our defense that really got us going,” Epperson said. “It’s the one thing coach Jenkins preaches all the time – defense, defense, defense. We got some steals and some transition buckets, and then all of a sudden it seemed like we couldn’t miss.
“We were disappointed we missed out on our chance for the playoffs with Wednesday’s loss, but getting to play Los Banos helped get us right back up.”
Sun-Star staff writer Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.