STOCKTON — No one told Davis High that the game was over at halftime.
The Spartans came off the Spanos Center floor trailing by 25 points, having just been ambushed by Merced High's 32-point second quarter.
The reality was that Davis' season was going to be over in 16 minutes, which made their reaction something special.
The Spartans not only battled through the second half but increased their intensity against the Bears' reserves, cutting the lead to eight points in the final minutes before falling 85-76 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 quarterfinal.
Merced, which placed five players in double figures, advanced to Thursday's 4 p.m. semifinal at Arco Arena against Sheldon.
Beyond that, the Bears earned a spot in the NorCal regional tournament that opens next week.
The Spartans had their season end and their 19-game winning streak snapped, despite the second-half comeback and a 28-point effort of Kory Johnson.
"The difference is that they came out stronger than we did," Johnson said. "In our minds, we were focused but we didn't play like we should have played at the start. We came out hungry too late in the game and by halftime we were too far behind to catch up."
In many ways, this appeared it would be a pretty even game. The Bears won the Central California Conference title, while the Spartans claimed the Modesto Metro Conference.
And on the court, the teams appeared almost eerily similar on an athlete-for-athlete basis, in size and body type.
"One of the things I noticed first on film was that they were a carbon copy team to us," said Merced coach Marcus Knott. "We expected Davis to be a lot better, but we also felt like we were the better team so it was just a matter of which team had the better game."
It was close for much of the first quarter, and when Xevion Vega went coast-to-coast for a basket with 2 minutes, 19 seconds left in the quarter the Spartans had a 15-14 lead.
Jaquari People came downcourt and hit a 3-pointer, Manny Orozco got inside for a basket and People scored after a steal, and suddenly the Bears led 20-14.
It didn't stop from there, and from People's 3-pointer to the end of the first half, a span of 10:05, Merced dominated Davis to the tune of 41-15 to take a 54-29 halftime lead.
"We knew it would be a tough game but we also knew we could battle and that it would be an even game if we came out and played well," Johnson said. "We did play hard, but we just didn't perform the way we should have."
Johnson capped his high school career by hitting 10 of 13 shots from the floor and eight of nine free throws while grabbing eight rebounds. Donte Walker added 13 points.
Merced, which has lived all season on its balance, got 16 points apiece from Reggie Nelson and Tyrone Bowie, 15 from People, 14 from Otis Caery and 12 from Brian Cooksey. Marques Barron scored eight points, but dished out nine assists.
And yes, the Davis comeback in the second half came against a mixed team of starters and reserves.
"The second quarter was huge for them," said Davis coach Dan Pacheco. "Our kids kept fighting there until the end. They kept putting subs in the game and we found a way to score enough so that they had to bring their starters back."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.