Marina boys’ basketball hangs on to advance to CIF title game

Marina's Barak Simon (1), shown competing against CdM earlier this month, scored 23 points on Saturday night.
Marina’s Barak Simon (1), shown competing against CdM earlier this month, scored 23 points on Saturday night.
(File photo)

Barak Simon deftly orchestrated Marina’s sprint to a 21-point halftime advantage, easily dodging the double-trap defense designed to prise his command of the Vikings’ quick, sharp-shooting attack in what had become an unexpectedly elementary CIF Southern Section boys basketball semifinal showdown.

It was nothing of the sort. That big lead over visiting San Gabriel Academy, soon to grow to 24 points, had all but evaporated by the final minute and was trimmed to three points with 26 seconds to go.

That Marina (25-7) survived was largely Simon’s doing. The junior point guard scored the Vikings’ last eight points — all in the final 2:19, six from the free-throw line — as they held off a big, young, athletic foe in Saturday night’s 63-58 triumph to reach next weekend’s Division 2A title game against 19-time Southern Section champion Long Beach Poly, the No. 3 seed.


Simon finished with 21 points, killing the game by hitting four free throws in the last 23 seconds (missing two, to keep things interesting) and taking a charge that fouled out Eagles star Moise Bamba with 17 seconds left and led to a moment of madness that ended the visitors’ opportunity.

Simon credited everyone else.

“It was my teammates,” he said. “It was Mark [Yeager] and Dylan [Gomez] that hit the threes. I drove it, they’re open, they’re great, they hit the wide-open 3s. Ryan [O’Rourke] and Jared [Palacio] — the big guys — they got the pick and roll, they finished it. That’s how we got that lead.”

Marina boys' basketball head coach Nick Racklin, shown in 2022, has led his team back to a CIF title game.
Marina boys’ basketball head coach Nick Racklin, shown in 2022, has led his team back to a CIF title game.
(File photo)

Mostly, it was Simon, who repeatedly dribbled out of aggressive man coverage and penetrated to create perimeter space while sinking three three-pointers and feeding juniors Yeager, Gomez and Pratali for six more — with four long shots fueling the 18-5 run that provided a 15-point edge a little more than three minutes into the second quarter.

That spurt started with Simon’s three midway through the first quarter for a lead the fifth-ranked Vikings would hold, and he then escaped SGA’s trap to beat the shot clock for an 8-4 lead. Yeager (16 points) made the first of his four 3-pointers and Gomez (13 points) followed with a three, sort of: He rimmed out as he was fouled and made all three free throws (and did so again in the third quarter).

Marina had some help from the eighth-ranked Eagles (20-10), whose distinct size advantage — Bamba, the only senior in an otherwise frosh/soph group, is 6-foot-6, Mohamed Toure 6-8 and Mahamadou Diop 6-10 — meant little in the first half. They missed nine of 12 shots in the first quarter (seven of 10 inside 10 feet, four of seven at the rim) and scored just once in their final seven first-half possessions as the Vikings extended a nine-point edge to 40-19 in the last three minutes of the second quarter.

The lead was maintained most of the third quarter, before SGA — with Bomba, well off his game to that point , driving the lane for 12 of his 14 points and grabbing five big rebounds — took off on a 26-6 run that would lead to the dramatic conclusion. Marina sorely missed Prateli, whose inside defense and play on the boards was key to the Vikings’ dominance but spent most of the fourth quarter on the bench after picking up his fourth foul.

“They did double-ball screens, and we knew [Simon] could go around the double-team,” Marina head coach Nick Racklin said. “We got away with it for a half. And then they stopped doing it the second half, and we didn’t get as many shots. It looked like they were letting us shoot, and then they said, ‘OK, we’re not going to let them shoot anymore.’”

Bomba fouled out after committing two last-minute fouls just six seconds apart — his fourth and fifth, both against Simon — and the first escaped Eagles head coach Kevin McCloskey’s notice. He was adamant that the last was Bomba’s fourth, questioning the scorebooks, his own included, that confirmed it was five as the senior guard stood nearby hoping for a reprieve.

Marina's Mark Yeager, shown competing against Laguna Beach earlier this season, scored 16 points on Saturday night.
Marina’s Mark Yeager, shown competing against Laguna Beach earlier this season, scored 16 points on Saturday night.
(File photo)

That delayed the substitution. Freshman Sean Palmer ran directly onto the court rather than checking in at the table, and SGA’s bench was assessed a technical foul. Simon hit just one of the two free throws to make it 61-56, then took the ball on the inbound pass and resisted the mandatory foul, to McCloskey’s frustration, until five seconds had clicked away.

Simon, who made 10 of 12 from the line, hit both of these to push the lead to seven with 11.9 on the clock. Bastien Moreau drove for a more-or-less uncontested layup with three seconds left, and the Vikings left it at that, letting time expire as the student section emptied onto the court.

Guess who took responsibility for the second-half struggles.

“We tried to hold the lead, and that was my fault,” said Simon, who turned the ball over four times during the skid while trying to make something of nothing. “We should have tried to get the [win] rather than hold the [win]. ... What’s going through my head [as SGA keeps cutting the lead], which I’m not sure should be, is that I got to score. But I should just keep reading the defense and hitting my teammates and making the right pass. I’m still learning.”

Those teammates have his back.

“He’s just a great game-manager,” Yeager said. “He’s good with the ball, he’s quick, he can push it. We can trust him to go one-on-one, one-on-two through the press, and that just helps us get to open guys.”

The Division 2A final will be played Friday or Saturday at a site the Southern Section will announce Monday.


CIF Southern Section Division 2A Playoffs


Marina 63, San Gabriel Academy 58

San Gabriel Academy 6-13-16-23 -- 58

Marina 14-26-13-10 -- 63

San Gabriel Academy — Bamba 14, Traore 13, Wang 10, Diop 9, Humphreys 4, Moreau 4, Toure 4.

3-pt. goals — Wang 2, Traore 1.

Fouled out — Humphreys, Bamba.

Technicals — Bench.

Marina — Simon 23, Yeager 16, Gomez 13, Palacio 4, O’Rourke 4, Prateli 3.

3-pt. goals -- Yeager 4, Simon 3, Gomez 1, Prateli 1.

Fouled out -- None.

Technicals -- None.