Garfield trailed for much of the first half but made a surge before the break. Guard P.J. Fuller ended with 29 points.
The first punch figuratively was landed by the underdog Cleveland High boys basketball team.
For the opening 13 minutes and 46 seconds, the Eagles put the top-ranked Garfield Bulldogs on their heels. Suddenly and decisively, things changed.
Led by the 29 points of junior guard P.J. Fuller and the 23 points from junior point guard Pierre Crockrell Jr., Garfield landed a resounding counterpunch to pull away in the second half for an 84-70 victory over the Eagles on Wednesday evening in the 3A Metro League tournament semifinals at Seattle Pacific University’s Brougham Pavilion.
Garfield (21-0) trailed for much of the first half — by as many as seven points — and were down 36-30 until a 9-0 surge in the final 1:57 of the first half.
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“It was just us getting ahead of ourselves and not coming out strong,” said Crockrell, a self-proclaimed pass-first point guard who started hunting for his shot. “Like a couple of games this year, we came out slow and played to our opponent’s level.
“You get frustrated a little bit, but we came out with the win so it’s going back to the drawing board and seeing what we have to do.”
The Bulldogs, ranked No. 5 in the nation in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25, took a 39-36 lead into halftime as Crockrell drilled a three-pointer to start the rally and Fuller bookended it with a driving layin at the 57.8-second mark before halftime.
“I come in as a pass-first point guard and just look to hit the open shot,” said Crockrell after his team hit nearly 60 percent of its field goals. “That’s what I did tonight. My team was finding me. We just feed off each other. If we run our sets, everyone’s going to get open shots and everyone’s going to score.
“Not every game is going to be my night where I’m scoring. I’ll be happy to get 10 assists instead of scoring 20 every night, because I know I helped my team that way.”
The Bulldogs face Rainier Beach on Friday at 8 p.m. in the Metro League championship game at SPU.
Cleveland (12-8) matches up with West Seattle for third and fourth places on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Chief Sealth.
“That’s what we wanted to do, we wanted to come out strong defensively,” said Eagles coach Jerry Petty, a 1998 Garfield graduate. “I didn’t like that (Garfield) made a run toward the end of the first half. I really wanted to go in with the lead, but that wasn’t the case.
“I thought they just shot the ball better than they’ve been shooting.”
Garfield head coach Brandon Roy has yet to lose a game in his two-year prep coaching career, improving to 50-0. Roy guided Nathan Hale to a 29-0 record, a Class 3A state title and the No. 1 spot in the national rankings.
A known distributor, Crockrell might have taken Cleveland by surprise with his offensive outburst.
“It’s good (when Crockrell scores), because we have a lot of versatility,” said Garfield senior J’Raan Brooks on the same night his future school, St. John’s, knocked off No. 1 Villanova in college hoops. “Everyone can shoot. Everyone can pass. Everyone can dribble.
“We’re always going to have that target on us (being No. 1 in 4A). We just have to keep playing our ball.”
Led by WSU commit CJ Elleby’s 28 points, 12 rebounds and four steals, the Eagles did all they could to mount a second-half comeback, but it never materialized.
Rainier Beach 73, West Seattle 43
Kevin Porter Jr. poured in 33 points and the third-ranked Vikings (18-3) put the hammer down in the second quarter to earn another shot at top-ranked Garfield in Friday’s Metro championship game.
It was the Vikings’ second win of the season over West Seattle after hanging on for a 64-60 win at home on Jan. 26. This time, the Vikings left no doubt as Porter Jr. slammed four second-half dunks in the open floor.
Simon Harris led the Wildcats (13-9) with 14 points.
Rainier Beach takes on the Bulldogs on Friday at 8 p.m. in the Metro League championship game at SPU. The Vikings fell to Garfield 100-72 on Jan. 12.
West Seattle matches up with Cleveland for third and fourth places on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Chief Sealth.