Birmingham survives Chatsworth 76-72 earning their first league win in an OT thriller
Entering their first league game with identical 7-10 records on the season, the Birmingham Patriots hosted the Chatsworth Chancellors on Wednesday January 10th, 2024 with a sense of urgency looking to gain an early edge in the West Valley League. The two teams duked it out in a tightly contested, physical game where the largest lead was only eight points. Down 66-63 with 8.3 seconds left in the game, Chatsworth sophomore guard Alijah Arenas sent the game into overtime with a three-pointer to tie the game and bring the crowd into a frenzy. Not to be rattled by Arenas’ shot, Birmingham relied on the leadership of their seniors, such as Mark Rios, who knocked down two clutch three pointers in the overtime period to go along with his 17 points helping the Patriots to their first league win.
Averaging 35.5 points per game heading into Wednesday’s contest, Arenas once again faced a tough defense in the form of Birmingham, that had held him to 19 points in an 85-62 loss last season. From the opening tip-off, the Patriots sent double teams at Arenas in an effort to force the ball out of his hands.
Birmingham Head Coach Nicholas Halic wanted to continue to play a similar defensive strategy to a year ago, “We play him a certain way. He knows it. He’s gotten a lot better though. You’ve just got to force him to be a volume guy.”
After earning four early points from the foul line, Arenas faced a stifling Birmingham defense that forced him to turn the ball over, leading to transition points on the other end. In addition to their defensive efforts, the Patriots crashed the offensive glass and earned second chance points to give them a 18-12 lead to end the first quarter.
After going down by 20-12 early in the second quarter, Chatsworth tightened up the defensive screws, as the team went on a 9-0 run to take the lead, taking advantage of points off turnovers. The game remained close for the remainder of the half, as Arenas and Birmingham senior and team captain Alex Dupre both got going offensively, as Birmingham carried a slim 32-28 halftime lead.
The Chancellors came out with a refocused defensive intensity to start the second half with hard closeouts on the perimeter from guarding the point of attack. Their activity on the defensive end led to opportunities on the offensive end, concluding with a 14-4 run to take a 42-36 lead with 4:07 left in the third quarter. However, the Patriots got hot from behind the arch, knocking down three triples to close the quarter to bring the contest to a 49-49 tie at the end of the third quarter.
The Patriots continued their third quarter momentum through their defense and rebounding which they parlayed into six unanswered points to start the fourth to cap off a 12-0 run to take a 55-49 lead. Sensing the contest slipping away, Arenas began attacking the rim at any opportunity, converting six of his ten free throw attempts in the period. After Arenas converted one of two free throws following a controversial late whistle, Birmingham held a slim 61-60 lead with 2:00 left in regulation. Junior center Taj Unuakhalu converted a wide open backdoor layup, capitalizing off of an Arenas double-team to give Chatsworth a 62-61 lead. Junior Andre Smith of the Patriots responded with a clutch three-pointer to give his team a 64-62 lead with 25.7 seconds left.
Senior Nasir Jones of Chatsworth converted one of two free throws from the line, while Rios made both of his to give Birmingham a 66-63 lead with 8.3 seconds left. With the game on the line, Chatsworth put the ball in the hands of their best player, and he delivered with a dribble drive to knock in a three-pointer from the left elbow to tie the game 1.9 seconds left. The Patriots couldn’t get a shot off as the game went into overtime.
Early in the overtime period, the Patriots regained their composure and relied on their defensible foundation to force two key turnovers from Arenas to take a 72-67 lead with under two minutes left. Arenas and Rios both exchanged three pointers on subsequent possessions, then Arenas made two foul shots to cut the lead to 75-72 with 55.1 left in OT. To add an exclamation point to their defensive efforts, Smith drew a key offensive foul from Arenas with 13.2 seconds left.
Arenas had one more opportunity to tie the game after Rios couldn’t convert at the charity stripe, but he missed a three to send the game to a second overtime period. Dupre added the last of his 19 points from the line to secure the 76-72 win for the Patriots.
Coach Halic credited Dupre for stepping up to the task of playing point guard for the first time in the program. Arenas scored 34 points and 6 rebounds on 8/22 shooting, converting 14/19 free throw attempts. Taj Unuakhalu had a double-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks. Birmingham will travel to El Camino Real for their next game, while Chatsworth will head to Granada Hills, as West Valley League play continues for both on Friday night at 7:00 pm.