LA CAÑADA — It looked like whatever belief the La Cañada High boys' basketball team fans held after its team fell into an early deficit was going to be vindicated.
Despite momentum swinging the way of the home-team Spartans in their CIF Southern Section Division III-AA opener, they still fell just short in a 49-48 loss to Lakeside Wednesday night.
“It’s just regroup for next year,” La Cañada Coach Tom Hofman said. “[Lakeside] made some big shots at the end, we answered a couple of them, but we just couldn’t get that last batch.”
It was a heartbreaking ending for La Cañada (15-13), which had two shots at a game-winner in the final 10 seconds. Spartans guard Koko Kurdoghlian had the last shot but his desperation, game-winning three-pointer was well off the mark at the final buzzer.
“It wasn’t a good look, but I had a feeling I was going to drain it,” said Kurdoghlian, who took the ball from halfcourt on an inbound play with 4.3 seconds left before hurrying to the three-point line for the contested three. “It wasn’t a good shot, I could have gotten a better shot, but there was just no choice. There was no time left.”
Lakeside moves on to face the winner of Wednesday night’s Century-Santa Margarita game.
Trailing, 36-29, with just under 11 minutes to play, the Spartans launched a furious comeback.
Jacob Brown (eight points) nailed a jump shot from the top of the three-point arc to pull La Cañada within one with 48 seconds to play.
With the shot clock turned off, the Spartans had two chances to take a lead in the final 10 seconds following a Lakeside (12-15) miss and Jack Anderson (seven rebounds, four points) rebound.
Hofman called two timeouts and drew up two inbounds plays in the final 10 ticks. The first play with six seconds left was spoiled when the Lancers' Daymarcco Green intercepted the inbounds pass intended for Dan Jun, who cut straight to the hoop.
Jun (team-high 13 points) immediately fouled Green, which sent him to the line for a one-and-one. Green missed the first free throw and Anderson grabbed another big board, which prompted another La Cañada timeout with 4.3 seconds left.
Needing to drive fullcourt to get a shot, Kurdoghlian (10 points) took the inbounds pass at midcourt and pulled up at the three-point line, but his desperation three with two defenders nearby was well off the mark to end the game and the Spartans' season.
“Koko got a pretty good shot, but with five seconds to go it’s hard to ask for anything better,” Hofman said.
The end of the 2013 season was a sign of how much La Cañada had relied on its freshman guard, especially after its starting senior point guard Ryan Lee suffered a season-ending injury in the middle of the year.
“They actually defer to [Kurdoghlian] at the end of the game, which is kind of surprising being a freshman,” Hofman said. “He’s going to be one of the greats in the area. He’s got a lot of work to do, but it’s probably the greatest freshman year of any player in the history of La Cañada — good start, good foundation for probably a fantastic career.”
La Cañada's late comeback began with 2:30 left in the third quarter when Brown hit a baseline jumper to bring the deficit to 36-31. Kurdoghlian followed that with a three-pointer and Brendon Hempstead (six points) cut the deficit to a field goal when he took a back door pass from Jun and laid the ball in with three seconds left in the frame.
Kurdoghlian tied the game at 38 when he added a layup 24 seconds into the final quarter.
The Spartans had a clear path to their first lead since a minute into the game, but they missed an open layup that led to a three-pointer for Lakeside's Mike Christner 13 points) and 41-38 advantage with 7:05 to play.
“That was a pretty big play right there, but in a close one-point game there’s a lot of big plays out there,” said Hofman, who also saw the Lancers' Justin Hall and Marcus Eggum go for a respective 10 points, six rebounds and a game-high 17 points, eight rebounds.
Kurdoghlian hit another three to keep it close, 43-41, with 6:07 remaining. Both sides traded hoops from there with Jun finishing in the lane before crashing to the floor to keep the Spartans within four, 49-45, with 2:13 to play.
As has been the case this season, La Cañada dug itself an early hole by committing four first-quarter turnovers and giving up a 9-0 Lakeside run to trail by eight, 11-3, 3:20 into the game.
Kurdoghlian said there was plenty he learned in his first high school campaign.
“It’s been a good experience to know how the games go at the varsity level because I haven’t played at this level,” he said. “It’s just a good experience for me and I hope to go further in CIF my junior and senior year.”