On the day Los Angeles Loyola learned that standout junior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright had received a doctor's clearance to return to the team after a month's absence because of an ankle injury, the Cubs played one more Mission League game without him and found a way to win.
Making 14 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter, Loyola (18-5, 8-2) was able to pull out a 53-46 victory over host Encino Crespi (18-8, 8-3) on Friday night to take over first place.
Andrew Johnson scored 18 points and had 11 rebounds, Max Hazzard had 10 points and 7-foot center Thomas Welsh contributed a couple of huge blocks for the Cubs.
Crespi made just four of 26 shots from three-point range. London Perrantes, who became the Celts' all-time scoring leader, was limited to 14 points on five-for-22 shooting.
"We just did not want to let him get loose," Loyola Coach Jamal Adams said.
That's eight league wins without Jackson-Cartwright, who has scholarship offers from UCLA and Arizona and usually closes out close games for the Cubs. Loyola was 10-0 until his ankle started to really bother him in late December, forcing a shutdown.
Jackson-Cartwright said Friday, "It's been a long time since I've been pain-free."
He is now, but he said, "I don't want to rush it."
He plans to have a morning workout Saturday, then may get limited playing time against Etiwanda in the Nike Extravaganza at Mater Dei in the evening.
The Cubs have learned to win without Jackson-Cartwright, which should make for good days ahead.
"It was hard at first," said Hazzard, a sophomore point guard who assumed leadership and ballhandling responsibilities while receiving encouragement from Jackson-Cartwright. "He's always in my ear. He's like another coach."
For Adams, keeping his team progressing despite injuries to Jackson-Cartwright and another guard, Khalil Bedart-Ghani, has been a challenge.
"It's been a year of adjustment," Adams said. "It's stretching me as a coach. We play totally different now than when we were 10-0. To be where we are without arguably our best player and the guy who closes the game at crunch time, I'm really proud of our guys."
Friday was senior night for Crespi. With one week left in the regular season in high school basketball, moms and dads, grandfathers and grandmothers are looking out onto the court with tears in their eyes.
Their emotions reflect the realization that their babies have suddenly grown up. They're thinking of the days when they bought cupcakes as the team mom or snapped photos of their son smiling in a junior Lakers uniform.
"The years flew by," said father London Perrantes Sr.
Afterward, Crespi Coach Russell White had his arms around his young son, who was crying.
It was another teaching moment in a gym that had plenty on Friday night.