Bishop Montgomery High was trailing Servite on Wednesday night, 33-24, with 4:34 left in the third quarter in a tense, rugged game. The partisan Servite crowd had goaded the Knights into turnovers, dumb fouls and missed free throws.
Darrell Daniel, Bishop Montgomery's star point guard, on his way to St. Mary's College next year, had scored 12 points up to that point but had been shut out from the field in the third quarter.
Daniel took an outlet pass and dribbled the length of the court to the left corner. He launched a three-point attempt. No good. He tried another after an offensive rebound. No good again.
The fans chanted "Dar-rell, Dar-rell" in a slow sing-song, chiding the 5-11 senior from Inglewood for his misses.
All appeared lost for Bishop Montgomery. Forward Pete Tolliver, who had been averaging double figures in points and rebounds, was out of the game due to foul trouble and had not scored a point. Sophomore Joe Hadnot, averaging 17 points per game, had not scored since the second quarter. And Daniel, the Knights' best player, was stone cold.
Bishop Montgomery, which had just broken a 38-game league losing streak, appeared to be on the brink of getting blown out of Orange County.
But then Daniel responded. He buried a 15-footer from the right of the key, making the score 33-26 with 3:51 to go in the quarter.
He drove the length of the floor and pulled up outside of the three-point line and fired. Swish. 33-29, 3:33 to go.
He drove the right side of the defense, shooting over two defenders, and banked in a five-footer. 33-31, 3:02 to go.
He took a pass from Kirk Jones to the left of the free-throw line and shot. It was good. 33-33, 1:50 to go.
Daniel had single-handedly brought the Knights back to a tie. But he didn't stop there. He hit another jumper to give Bishop Montgomery the lead for the first time since the first quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Servite moved ahead again, 37-35, but Daniel scored again to tie the game, and then once more while being fouled. His free throw made the score 40-37, Bishop Montgomery.
Servite came back to tie, and the game went into overtime. The Friars promptly took a 44-41 lead, and the Bishop Montgomery offense was sputtering. Daniel missed one shot, but with 1:12 to go he made a three-pointer from beyond the top of the key.
"If a guy can hit a 22-footer coming off a pick with two guys in his face, off balance, then his team deserves to win, I guess," Servite Coach Rich Smith said. "That was unbelievable."
Bishop Montgomery did win, and unbelievable is a good way to describe it. Jones hit a three-pointer with 33 seconds left in the extra period to bring the Knights back from a two-point deficit and win the game, 47-46.
Daniel finished with 31 of his team's 47 points. It was his best scoring output of the season, and the team's worst.
"I suppose it's a good time for Daniel to have his high game when the team has a season low," first-year Bishop Montgomery Coach Doug Mitchell said.
So far, the whole season has been a high for Bishop Montgomery, and much of it is due to Daniel. He is averaging 23 points per game, up from 17 last year, despite switching from off guard to point guard.
Daniel has also improved his defense, Mitchell said. Against Servite, he exhibited sound fundamental skills such as screening out for rebounds and refusing to allow opponents to drive the base line.
"I like to be the leader of the team, but it doesn't matter what I score as long as we win," Daniel said. "So far it's working out."
The Knights, 11-3 overall and 2-0 in the Angelus League, are having their best season in recent memory under Mitchell, their fourth coach in four years.
Besides Hadnot and Tolliver, the Knights depend on Joe Magyar for tough defense and Gary Randazzo for long-range shooting. Jones leads the team in assists.
"It's great having a guy like Darrell," Magyar said. "He's a great scorer, but it's a two-way street with him. If you're open, he'll hit you for a basket. He's an unselfish player."
Currently, Bishop Montgomery is ranked No. 4 in the CIF Southern Section 4-A Division, and Daniel, with his teammates' help, is definitely the No. 1 Knight.
"The team works well together," Mitchell said. "Darrell doesn't get those shots by himself; his teammates set picks and give him the ball."
Last year Daniel, who transferred from St. Bernard after his sophomore year, was an All-Angelus League selection. But because the Knights were 0-8 in the league and 9-13 overall, he attracted little attention.
It was only through a friend of Daniel's at Bishop Montgomery that he was offered a college scholarship. The friend happens to be the son of St. Mary's Coach Paul Landreaux.
"My son kept on telling me, 'Dad, you gotta see this guy play,' but I had seen games all over the state and had read every scouting report, and I didn't see (Daniel's) name," Landreaux said the afternoon before his team faced Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash. "But (my son) kept on bugging me, so I went down during the summer, and I was impressed with what I saw."
Opposing coaches are impressed as well. Said Servite's Smith, whose team tried three different defenses against Daniel: "The kid's phenomenal. We tried everything to stop him, but we couldn't."
"It's pure ecstasy to watch Darrell play, and see how hard work can pay off for him and his team," said Daniel's father, Darrell Jr., who played basketball for UC Riverside. "He's better than I ever was."
Daniel, who is actually Darrell III, figures to see tougher competition in college, but Landreaux said he could play in his first year if he gains strength and size.
"My dream is to play Loyola Marymount and in the (NCAA) tournament," Daniel said. "But this year I am totally dedicated to Bishop Montgomery. "
Daniel hopes his team can advance to the 4-A playoffs and has not ruled out a league championship, despite Mater Dei's presence as the overwhelming league favorite. The Monarchs, 15-1, are ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section 5-A Division.
"It's not over until it's over," Daniel said of the Angelus League race, borrowing a cliche from the baseball world.
For Daniel, who will study business administration in college and said his "ultimate dream" is to play in the NBA, it won't be over for a long time.