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By Arion Armeniakos

Special to Chabot Athletics

It's still early in conference play, but not too soon for Chabot men's basketball coach Keenan McMiller to describe his team's hard-earned 86-81 win over Las Positas on Friday night as "program changing."

Surging Chabot had been itching for a signature win, and this gritty triumph over state No. 22 Las Positas in a Coast-North showdown between district rivals fits the bill.

"It's big. To play a good team and just establish ourselves like we did in that second half, this is the next step to where we need to go," said McMiller, whose team earned its 12th win of the season, surpassing its win total from all of last season.

Freshman Skylar Robinson led the Gladiators with 17 points and Jabari Sweet added 16 points.

Chabot (12-6, 3-1) and Las Positas (13-5, 3-1) are tied for second place in the conference, a game behind state No. 1 City College of San Francisco (18-0, 4-0). Las Positas, which saw its four-game winning streak snapped, will host the Gladiators on Feb. 12. Circle the date.

McMiller sees green lights ahead for the program.

"They're going to grow with this now. This is not going to be a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing," McMiller said proudly. "These are the expectations that we are going to have now. It's been a while for Chabot, but we are getting it back going."

Stiff defense was key to the victory in the back-and-forth battle. Led by Sweet's 15 first-half points, the Gladiators hung in there against a high-flying opponent thanks to their younger players.

"Our guys just stepped up," said McMiller, in his second season heading the program. "They needed to step up. Especially in that second half and especially some of my freshmen. So, I'm excited about that, for freshmen to step up for us in a game like this is huge."

In the first half, Chabot managed to contain Las Positas star Michael Hayes, who had a game-high 21 points, but the Hawks' Wesley Burse stepped up on offense and made some crucial contributions on defense. And it was Burse who helped the visitors take a 47-45 halftime lead.

The Hawks surged to start the second half. Hayes got rolling down low as Las Positas built a seven-point lead in the first 10 minutes, but the Gladiators dug deep. Even after Sweet picked up his fourth foul on a technical with under nine minutes remaining, McMiller's squad mounted a comeback.

Freshmen Robinson and Ramaj Gordon helped Chabot to tie the game at 70-70, setting up a clutch Akili Daniels corner three, followed by a layup to put Chabot ahead to stay, 75-70.

McMiller was particularly impressed by his team's tough defense down the stretch in a game of this magnitude. The former Merritt coach emphasized defense from Day One at Chabot.

"I'm just proud of them because we have been preaching these things," McMiller said. "To go out there, play one of the better teams, and really lock down on the fundamentals that we needed to do against a good team, that's what I'm even prouder of."

But success hasn't come by accident.

"We've put in a lot of work and I'm happy that they are growing into what they could be," McMiller added. "We've had a tough schedule, trying to get the players to grow up together and play together, but it's starting to pay off. And they haven't even played their best basketball yet. They are now just starting to play better."

WHAT A WEEK: Earlier this week, the Gladiators beat host Skyline 87-69 as Izayah Talmadge led the balanced squad with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists and Japjit Gill had 17 points and five assists. Robinson and Sweet each had nine points.