COSTA MESA — Saaeed El-Assadi said he is used to going up against a 6-foot-7 center. All last season, he guarded a big man who was three inches taller and 100 pounds heavier.
Those battles came in practice and against a teammate, so those didn't really count.
El-Assadi's latest match up with a 6-foot-7 player came Wednesday and it mattered a lot.
Costa Mesa High played host to the biggest boys' basketball rivalry in town, the Battle for the Bell against Estancia. The biggest player in the gym was Rashad Davis and he played for the Eagles.
The job of slowing down Davis went to El-Assadi.
Davis had his way with El-Assadi in the first half. The second half turned out to be a different story.
Coach Bryan Rice said that was because El-Assadi decided to show up in the second half. El-Assadi stepped up at the right time during a battle for second place in the Orange Coast League.
He limited Davis in final two quarters, and then converted two clutch free throws late, allowing the Mustangs to pull off a dramatic 39-36 comeback victory.
"It was a challenge," El-Assadi said of facing Davis, "but I went against Andrew [Albers] all last year.
"Our team put in a lot of effort, so I didn't want to let them down."
El-Assadi rose to the occasion on defense and at the free-throw line.
Thirteen seconds after Estancia junior Chad Fackler nailed a three-pointer to cut Costa Mesa's lead to 37-36, El-Assadi went to the free-throw line. El-Assadi went on to drain two free throws with 14 seconds left, giving Costa Mesa a three-point edge.
The Eagles threw up a desperate three-point shot at the buzzer to try to force overtime. The shot didn't come close to going in and there went Estancia's three-game winning streak in league.
Costa Mesa's players and fans stormed the court. They had a lot to be excited about, as the Mustangs (15-6, 4-1 in league) are alone in second place in league.
The Mustangs also beat their rivals for the first time in two years. As was the case back then, Costa Mesa was at home when it happened.
The Mustangs had to fight back from a double-digit deficit this time. They stormed back from 12 points down in third quarter.
Rice credited the team's defensive play for being able to rally. El-Assadi boxed out Davis, keeping him off the boards for the most part in the second half.
A timely steal by Marcus Hayes off a Davis pass that led to a layup with 44 seconds left to play was crucial. Hayes gave Costa Mesa a 37-33 lead.
"We've been in some tough games this year," Rice said.
The Mustangs were coming off a tough loss, a setback at Laguna Beach last Friday. They looked to bounce back against a team that only has eight players.
Despite a depth issue, the Eagles (12-10, 3-2) rolled past their previous three league opponents. Davis led the way, as the senior averaged 16 points, 14.3 rebounds and 3.6 blocks during the stretch.
Davis posted better numbers against Costa Mesa, finishing with 21 points, 20 rebounds and two blocks. Most of his game-high stats came before halftime and the Eagles benefitted.
Estancia went into the break ahead, 22-15, thanks to closing out the first half on an 8-0 run. The run continued for the first three minutes of the second half, with Davis starting it with a two-handed dunk while a defender fouled him. Davis converted the three-point play at the free-throw line.
A minute later, Ben Beck gave the Eagles a 27-15 lead by hitting two free-throw attempts. Everything seemed to be in Estancia's favor, the Mustangs had no answer for Davis and their shooting woes.
Estancia held the Mustangs scoreless for the first three minutes of the third quarter. Then the momentum quickly swung to Costa Mesa's side.
Nick Hefner knocked down a three-pointer and then raced in for a layup. With Costa Mesa's deficit down to seven, Estancia Coach Agustin Heredia called a timeout.
Fifteen seconds after the timeout, Jordan Walden hit a three-pointer for Costa Mesa. Now, it was just a two-possession game.
"We couldn't take care of the ball," said Heredia, whose team committed six turnovers in the third quarter.
The turnovers continued to hurt the Eagles in the fourth quarter.
The Mustangs went on to take their first lead since the midway point of the second quarter. Point guard Nick Dawson led the way, scoring six of his team-high 13 points in the fourth quarter. Davis rarely touched the ball in the final quarter. He took two shots, making one.
"It had nothing to do with not getting [the ball] into him," Heredia said.
"Mentally, we stopped playing."
Orange Coast League
Costa Mesa 39, Estancia 36
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Estancia 6 – 16 – 9– 5 — 36
Mesa 9 – 6 – 12 – 12 — 39
E – Davis 21, Beck 6, Fackler 3, Mendoza 2, Sullivan 2, Pereira 2.
3-pt. goals – Fackler 1.
CM – Dawson 13, Walden 9, El-Assadi 6, N. Hefner 5, Hayes 4, J. Comer 2.
3-pt. goals – Dawson 1, Walden 1, N. Hefner 1.