Allen Huddleston and his Merced teammates were in bad shape.
With Golden Valley up 16 points late in the third quarter Wednesday night, it appeared GV would hand Merced its first Central California Conference loss.
"When you're down like that, you need somebody to take over," Huddleston said. "Whoever gets the hot hand."
Once again, Huddleston was that guy for Merced.
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The junior guard scored 20 of his game-high 27 points in the final 10:56 to lead Merced to a surprising 57-54 come-from-behind win in front of a near-sellout crowd at Merced College.
"It felt like a bad dream," said Merced coach Marcus Knott about the big deficit. "You have to give the credit to GV. They played some of the best defense against us all year."
Golden Valley (2-4 CCC, 9-12 overall) did everything it needed to do early on.
Guards Demarya Moody and Liataud Prophete kept Merced's Huddleston and Jarrett Sparks from getting to the basket.
Golden Valley held Merced (6-0 CCC, 14-7) to just 19 first-half points and took an 11-point lead into intermission.
Things only got worse for Merced, as GV opened up a 39-23 lead with 3:11 left in the third quarter.
"If anything, we just had to calm down an play," Knott said. "We were flustered."
Huddleston scored nine points as Merced closed out the third quarter with a 14-3 run to cut the deficit to 42-37.
"When we got it down to a five-point lead, it stayed like that for awhile," Huddleston said. "That's when I knew we had it."
Merced got back into the game by making 20 of 23 free throws in the second half.
GV shot just 13 free throws in the game.
"Our inability to get to the free-throw line and their ability to get there was amazing to me," said GV coach Keith Hunter.
"Especially when you consider we were the team up 16 points. We're not trying to foul.
"Their 23 free throws to our 10 in the second half was a tremendous difference in the game."
Sparks made 9 of 10 free throws in the half, and finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Kenny Cooper also returned after a two-game absence for Merced and finished with eight rebounds and a couple of blocks.
Prophete led GV with 17 points despite playing most of the game in foul trouble.
Huddleston gave Merced the lead for good when he sank a 3-pointer with 1:50 remaining.
Prophete tried to tie the game, but misfired on a trey with 20 seconds left.
Sparks iced the game with a pair of free throws.
"This feels good," Huddleston said. "A loss would have hurt our ranking. We finish the first round of league undefeated.
"Hopefully we can go undefeated in the second round."
Central California Conference
GOLDEN VALLEY 54
At Merced College
Golden Valley 17 12 13 12 -- 54
Merced 9 9 19 20 -- 57
GOLDEN VALLEY -- Damarya Moody 6, Liataud Prophete 17, Dante Scott 9, John Sykes 12, Jeremy Jacobo 2, Alex Fletcher 8. Totals 21 8-13 54.
MERCED -- Ronnie Dunham 2, Bernard Bolden 1, Allen Huddleston 27, Jarrett Sparks 21, Matt Akers 3, Eddie Beavers 1. Totals 15 22-28 57.
3-pointers: GV 4 (Scott 2, Prophete 1, Fletcher 1), Merced 4 (Huddleston 3, Sparks 1); Team Fouls: GV 22, Merced 18; Fouled Out -- Jacobo (GV).
Records: Golden Valley 2-4 CCC, 7-10 overall; Merced 6-0, 14-7.
JV -- Merced won.
Frosh -- GV won.