NORTHEAST GLENDALE — For the first time in six years, the Glendale Community College men's basketball team topped one of the best programs in the Western State Conference Southern Division.
And Vaquero Coach Brian Beauchemin wasn't there to see the end of it.
That's because he was ejected in the second half of Saturday's 72-70 home victory against Citrus College, the three-time defending division champions and the fifth-ranked team in the state.
Beauchemin missed a physical, and at times, ugly contest.
Glendale college (14-5, 3-0 in the division) held a 41-36 lead with 17 minutes remaining when Beauchemin protested a charging call on Vaquero sophomore Demetrius Perkins. The referee handed him a technical and a few seconds later, the veteran coach was assessed another one for talking back. It marked the first time that Beauchemin had been ejected from a game in his 45-year coaching career.
"It was bad," said Beauchemin, who took over the Vaquero program in 1979 after coaching on various levels, including high school. "I didn't say anything. I didn't show anybody up.
"I thought I cost us this game. We gave them points because of my stupidity."
The Owls eventually tied the score at 44 when the game appeared as if it was about to get out of hand. Glendale college's Robert McQueen was given a technical for shoving an Owl player, infuriating the Vaqueros and energizing the Owls, who hadn't led since holding a 7-6 advantage early in the first half.
But the Vaqueros never allowed Citrus (17-3, 3-1) to take a lead.
After McQueen's technical, Glendale college's Narbeh Ebrahimian called the Vaqueros together and reminded his teammates to stay focused.
"We had to stay together and keep playing hard," the Crescenta Valley High graduate said.
The Vaqueros played hard on defense, limiting the Owls to more than 30 points below their division average of points per game. Citrus, winners of 23 consecutive division contests prior to Saturday, scored 98, 109 and 100 points in their previous three games, an average of 102.3 per game.
Glendale college knew it couldn't keep pace with the Owls on offense, but it had a strong enough defense to limit their opportunities.
"We had to close down the gaps and take charges," Ebrahimian said. "It's tough to beat this type of team with an offensive game. We couldn't outscore them. We had to win this game with defense."
The Vaqueros' offensive burst came when they went on a 13-2 run, covering four minutes after McQueen's technical.
"[After the technical], they said, 'let's play smart, and let's not give this game away,'" said Vaquero assistant coach Vigen Jilizian, who took over the head coaching duties after Beauchemin's removal.
"We could've easily fallen apart and we didn't."
There were some other frustrating moments for the Vaqueros.
Citrus attempted 34 free throws in the second half, compared to the Vaqueros' 17. The Owls had 45 free-throw attempts and the Vaqueros had 27 in the game.
"There were a lot of touch fouls that turned ugly because they weren't called," Jilizian said. "Our guys met their physical play with physical play."
The physical play lasted until the final seconds.
Ebrahimian was whistled for an offensive foul with 12 seconds remaining, turning the ball over to the Owls. With his team trailing, 71-69, Citrus' Donte Archie was fouled on a shot attempt. The sophomore missed the first and sank the second.
Glendale college's Nate Bryant hit one of two free throws on the other end, giving Citrus one more chance to tie the score with six seconds left. A running shot was too strong at the buzzer, giving the Vaqueros a crucial win early in division play.
Nikolas Rhodes had a game-high 15 points for the Vaqueros. Teammate Antonio Garrett had 13 points and Ebrahimian had 11 for the Vaqueros, who shot 49.1% from the field. The Owls were 17 of 48 (35.4%) from the field.
As big as the win is, the Vaqueros also know they must move on and focus on their next opponent, West L.A., on Wednesday.
"We can't ponder on this win for the rest of the season," Jilizian said. "We're looking at West L.A. We can't let this game be our whole season."