TURLOCK — Had Clinton Tremelling’s three-point shot stayed down, there was a good chance someone would have been crushed in a tidal wave of red.
It would have capped an improbable rally from a 10-point deficit in the final 70 seconds, and with the energy in the student-raged near-capacity crowd of 1,335 at Fitzpatrick Arena, well ...
It didn’t stay down.
And when Marcus Bell’s put-back was about a half-second too late, Cal State Stanislaus had suffered its first home loss of the season, 77-75 to Cal State San Bernardino, the nation’s 12-ranked Division II squad.
“The kids played hard and I was happy to see them fight right to the end of the game,” said coach Larry Reynolds. “The way the game was going, and with us in fouling mode, it would have been easy to give up and walk away from this.”
Despite the loss, the Warriors are 13-6 overall and 9-6 in the California Collegiate Athletic Association and with a win tonight at home against UC San Diego will be right back in the driver’s seat for a top-six finish and a berth in the conference tournament.
But to examine what could have been, it’s necessary to ponder how impossible the task appeared when the Coyotes (17-2, 14-1) led 75-65 with 1:10 remaining.
They were in control, and it was due in no small part to the absence of power forward Rob Walters, who suffered a concussion in practice Monday. He should return for next weekend’s road games, but without him against the Coyotes, Stanislaus was without the enforcer to support Bell.
Bell still finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds, and Chris Read picked up the scoring slack with 19 points, but the balance wasn’t there.
“We tried to slow the game down because we were outsized without Rob,” Reynolds said. “We were looking to take shots late on the clock. For the most part it worked, but it’s hard because you almost have to be perfect. You’re not getting any easy baskets doing that.
“Our guys did a good job with the game plan, especially since it’s the first time we played like this this year.”
San Bernardino extended a seven-point halftime lead to as many as 13 points on three occasions in the second half, and all appeared lost for the home team when the Coyotes led 65-52 with 6:42 remaining.
For one, Stanislaus’ outside game wasn’t there. The Warriors hit only five of 17 three-pointers. They also faltered at the free throw line, hitting 14 of 27.
But there might have been magic in the sweltering gym. There had to be when there was 1:10 on the clock and Stanislaus still trailed by 10.
Bell started the rally with a free throw, then got a layup with 34 seconds left after a defensive stop to make it 75-68. San Bernardino missed the front end of a one-and one and Read converted two free throws with 30 seconds left.
A steal by Shey Mataele led to a Read layup, and after a San Bernardino free throw gave the Coyotes a 76-72 lead, Turlock High’s Alek Carlson drilled a three-pointer with 11 seconds left to get the red froth flowing.
Lacy Haddock, who led the Coyotes with 17 points, hit the first of two free throws with eight seconds left, but when Bell grabbed the rebound on the second shot, the Warriors had a chance to steal the win.
The ball went quickly upcourt, and Tremelling somehow was left nearly alone in the left corner. His shot skimmed both rims before popping out.
The emotion and effort spent by the Warriors, while providing a great show for the home crowd, might have its cost. Read and point guard Sam Marcus both played 36 hard minutes, while Bell was on the floor for 34.
“Tomorrow night is a big game for us,” Reynolds said. “I hope we didn’t expend too much energy in this gym tonight.”