Shareef O'Neal was a human highlight reel Saturday night, but it was two free throws he calmly sank with 18.1 seconds left that clinched Santa Monica Crossroads' 54-50 victory over Lake Balboa Birmingham on Saturday in the Southern California Division II regional final at Crossroads School.
With his dad, Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal, sitting in the first row across from the Crossroads bench, the 6-foot-10 UCLA-bound forward made several emphatic blocks and led all scorers with 18 points, including a dunk at the buzzer that pulled the Roadrunners within 38-33 heading into the fourth quarter.
"It's a regular game, nothing different," Shareef O'Neal said of having his father, who led the Lakers to three straight NBA titles and has his jersey hanging in Staples Center, in attendance. "He's at a lot of my games, but this is big for my team."
Shareef O'Neal hardly needed a ladder as he joined his teammates cutting down the net as if they had just won the NCAA title. The Roadrunners hope to do it again after the state final next weekend in Sacramento.
"Oh yes!" Shaquille O'Neal said, poking his head into the Roadrunners' locker room during the team's postgame celebration.
Tamir Saban hit four three-pointers and Darrel Houston scored 10 points,including a steal and layup that broke a 45-45 tie with under two minutes left. Benjamin Terry had 10 points for the second-seeded Roadrunners (24-9), who trailed after each of the first three quarters.
"Losing the CIF championship [to rival Brentwood] really helped us out," first-year Crossroads coach Anthony Davis said. "I told the guys we've been down before. That's what these moments are about, showing how you respond. It really motivated Shareef too — he wasn't going to let us lose."
The 13th-seeded Patriots (15-15) were road warriors in the playoffs, hosting only one of their six postseason contests, and the boisterous Crossroads crowd did not deter them from building a 29-24 halftime lead.
Seven-foot center Christian Koloko led Birmingham, which lost to eventual champion Westchester in the first round of the City Section Open Division playoffs, with 16 points and guard Devonaire Doutrive and Tyme Andrews each added 15.