Desert Vista coach Gino Crump cracked a smile before letting out a sigh of relief following his team’s back-and-forth 73-63 victory over rival Mountain Pointe on Friday night.
“That was fun,” Crump said. “It’s always a tough fight, always. No matter who is ranked where, we’ve been ranked No. 1, they’ve been ranked No. 1, it’s always a tough battle.”
Friday night’s contest against Mountain Pointe was Crump’s third game back after he was reinstated as head coach of the Thunder. He was recommended for termination in December following a postgame incident that resulted in one of his player’s parents filing a restraining order against him.
The restraining order was dismissed on Dec. 31. Crump was reinstated by Tempe Union High School District governing board officials on Jan. 8.
“It feels great,” Crump said of being back with his team. “This is what I love doing. I love coaching kids and winning basketball games. It’s fun, this is why I do it. I’m happy to be back.”
The Thunder, led by assistant coach Mark Smith, went 5-1 during Crump’s absence. They’ve gone 3-0 since, including a close win over Desert Ridge on Tuesday, a blowout victory over last year’s 6A champion Pinnacle and Friday night’s back-and-forth battle with Mountain Pointe.
Desert Vista scored early and often in the first quarter. Sophomore guard Desean Lecque caught fire early from three-point range while senior forward Osasere Ighodaro dominated the glass on both ends of the floor.
Mountain Pointe, led by junior guard Jason Kimbrough and junior forward Zereoue Williams, closed the gap and helped the Pride take the lead just before the end of the first quarter. However, a buzzer-beater by Lecque from beyond the arc gave Desert Vista a one-point advantage at the end of the quarter.
“We have a good shooting team, so we’re used to doing stuff like that,” said Lecque, who scored 18 points. “When it’s a rivalry game it’s always important, so it’s always extra fuel to the fire.”
Mountain Pointe held the lead most of the second and third quarters, as the Pride answered each of Desert Vista’s baskets with one of its own. Desert Vista eventually took a two-point lead but gave Mountain Pointe a chance to answer with under 10 seconds remaining.
Freshman guard Mark Brown went for the buzzer-beater but missed off the left side of the rim. Senior forward Rashion Hodge tracked it down and saved it from going out of bounds, passing it off to senior guard Miles Sulka who banked in an acrobatic shot to beat the buzzer.
With both teams knotted at 52 heading into the final quarter, Desert Vista sophomore guard Andrew King took over.
Shots began to fall for King in the third quarter but picked up dramatically in the fourth. The 6-foot-2 guard hit two big three-pointers, followed two more baskets after a trip to the free throw line to give Desert Vista its biggest lead of the night at 10 points.
As Mountain Pointe began to once again mount a comeback and cut the Thunder’s lead to five, a pair of threes by both Lecque and King gave Desert Vista a comfortable lead and ultimately, the win.
“They depend on me to shoot the three,” said King, who finished the night with 22 points. “I just had to pull out this game and show what I can do.”
Desert Vista, who entered the contest as the second-ranked team in the 6A Conference, improved to 9-1 in power-point games and 16-2 overall on the season with the win over Mountain Pointe.
The Pride, meanwhile, dropped to 5-6 in power-point games and 9-7 overall on the season. The loss to Desert Vista was the fourth straight for Mountain Pointe, all of which have come by 10 points or less.
“I knew they were good, but they were even better tonight,” Crump said of Mountain Pointe. “I’m looking forward to seeing them at our house. It’ll be fun.”