TURLOCK — Allen Huddleston took a pass at the top of the key and was surprised at what he saw.
"It was one of the first times all game that they left me open," said the Merced High senior.
He let fly from a few feet beyond the 3-point line, and it was good. That basket gave Huddleston 32 points, and it helped give the Bears an insurmountable lead in a 66-62 victory over Turlock in front of a large crowd at Turlock High on Wednesday night.
The victory was a big one for Merced (15-8, 7-1 Central California Conference), which remains atop the CCC standings. The conference's next two teams, Golden Valley (18-4, 5-2) and Turlock (14-9, 5-3) play each other Friday.
It was also an improbable victory. Turlock led 52-42 going into the fourth quarter, but the Bears came back with strong defensive pressure across the entire court that gave the Bulldogs problems.
"We knew we were in a pretty tough situation," Merced coach Marcus Knott said. "But going into the fourth, I thought we'd worn them down a little bit. They missed a couple of shots that they were making in the first quarter."
So Merced kept the pressure up. And it paid off almost immediately.
The Bears scored nine consecutive points to open the quarter, then after Turlock's Anthony Hubbard made a layup for a little relief, Merced scored the next nine for a commanding lead. It was Merced's third close win over Turlock this season.
"We wanted to prove that we could beat these guys," Turlock coach Doug Cornfoot said. "And we did ... for 26 minutes."
Hubbard led Turlock with 16 points, followed by 15 from Travis Souza.
The Bears received a nice supporting game from post player Patrick Franey (12 points).
But it was the Bears' guards — Huddleston, Bernard Bolden, Reggie Nelson and Ronnie Dunham — that saved the day.
"It started on the defensive side," Huddleston said. "We were down, and we came back because of our defense."
Knott felt it helped to spark the Bears' shooting late in the game.
"When you aren't shooting the ball well," he said, "there's nothing like getting a few layups."
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.