There were players crying in the Los Angeles Loyola High locker room Tuesday night following a hard-to-take 66-65 loss to Woodland Hills Taft in a Southern California Division I regional first-round boys' basketball game.
Three makeable shots in the final eight seconds failed to connect, the last a fall-away 15-footer by Joe Stein at the buzzer, and so ended Loyola's season. And the person most responsible for the defeat was Taft's Jordan Gathers, who played for Loyola for three years until switching schools.
Gathers had a season-high 15 points and made two three-pointers in the fourth quarter to enable Taft (25-5) to advance to a quarterfinal at home Thursday against Lawndale Leuzinger.
"His heart was invested," Loyola Coach Jamal Adams said of his former player. "Those are his friends in the locker room. God bless him. He played a fantastic game."
There were five lead changes in the final five minutes. Loyola (26-4), trying to pull off an upset of the City Section Division I runners-up on their home court, had the ball with 20 seconds left.
Julian Harrell briefly lost the ball, then drove to the basket and missed a layup. Tony Wroblicky got the rebound and also missed a layup. Stein came up with the rebound and launched one final shot that didn't go. It was relief for Taft and disbelief for the Cubs.
"It was very emotional," said Gathers said, who hugged each Loyola player. And then Adams gave him a final embrace.
"Jordan is my guy," Adams said. "I still love him. We've talked all season. I'm rooting for him."
Taft survived with the help of De'Andre Daniels' 15 points, Pierson Williams' 12 points and Bryce Jones' 11.
"We were lucky to get out with a victory," Taft Coach Derrick Taylor said.
Los Angeles Crenshaw tried to fluster Long Beach Poly with a pressing, trapping defense, but it was the host Cougars who were rattled for most of an 87-62 loss.
Crenshaw (21-5) committed turnover after turnover during a third quarter in which it was outscored, 21-10, transforming a six-point halftime deficit into an insurmountable 17-point hole.
"We're a defensive team first," Poly Coach Sharrief Metoyer said. "We weren't going to come into this gym and outscore them, so we had to get some stops. In the third quarter we finally got some defensive stops and got them a little bit under control."
The Jackrabbits (27-4) demonstrated toughness and poise, repeatedly getting to the free-throw line and scoring on numerous put-backs. Junior guard Alex Carmon scored 25 points and freshman forward Roschon Prince had 17 for Poly, which advanced to play at Etiwanda on Thursday in a quarterfinal.
It will be a rematch of a Southern Section Division 1AA semifinal that Etiwanda won, 55-52, last month.