POWAY — Coach Neville Saner would be the first to admit that his Poway High School basketball team did not look as if it was a champion Thursday night here against Mt. Carmel.
The Titans shot a subpar 43% from the field, did not rebound with their usual aggressiveness and were frequently listless on defense.
But in the most important statistic, Poway outscored the second-place Sundevils, 71-67, to clinch its third straight Avocado League title.
Saner said the Titans (12-0 in league, 21-3 overall) showed their championship form.
"An awful lot is expected of us all the time," Saner said. "We have a tendency at Poway to get on top of people and shove its down their throats. I really think tonight we were a little tired and so you get this kind of a game.
"Believe me, I would have loved for us to have a good game tonight, but I think a game like this is good before the playoffs. I know we won't play like this the next time."
The Titans' fatigue did not show in the first quarter as Poway took a 21-10 lead. Forwards Jud Buechler and Dominick Johnson showed why they're the county's top-scoring duo, combining for 15 points in the first quarter.
But midway through the second quarter things began to change. Buechler and Johnson started meeting resistance when they tried to drive inside against the Sundevils. At the same time, their outside shots stopped falling through the hoop.
"We came out so pumped up at the beginning of the game that it drained us by the second quarter," Johnson said.
While Poway felt drained, Mt. Carmel seemed to have a full reserve. Forward Scott Boggins hit four of five shots from the field in the second quarter and added one more from the free-throw line to bring Mt. Carmel. By halftime, the Sundevils had cut the lead to 40-33.
Mt. Carmel closing to within five by the end of the third quarter.
At this point, when the Titans usually count on Buechler's scoring, the senior forward went cold, getting only four points in the second half.
But the Titans turned to Johnson, who scored 12 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter to help increase Poway's lead to 66-53.
"On this team if someone is not playing up to par, there's always someone to pick up the reins," Johnson said. "Fortunately, tonight it was me."
The Sundevils came back again in the game's final minutes, closing the margin to four. But the clock ran out as did the patience of the Sundevils and their fans, who scuffled with Buechler and Johnson at the game's end.