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Providence boys' basketball muscles through Independence in second round of state playoffs

Providence boys' basketball muscles through Independence in second round of state playoffs
Providence High's A'jahni Levias drives to the basket and is fouled during Thursday's state playoff game against Independence. (James Carbone)

BURBANK — The CIF State Southern California Regional Division IV second-round playoff game was what the Providence High boys’ basketball team has prepared for all season.

The battle-tested Pioneers hosted Independence of the CIF Central Section on Thursday and the visiting Falcons tested the hosts on every possession.

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Each team showed grit and composure for three quarters, until Pioneers junior A’Jahni Levias’ scoring efforts helped the hosts to a double-digit lead in the final period.

Providence pulled away and held on to its lead to defeat Independence, 64-58, to continue its historic postseason run.

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“We were both playing a competitive game and I told the guys we don’t always play games that we cruise away to victories,” Providence coach Brandon Lincoln said. “We have to gut it out and I knew that team was going to be a good team.

“I knew that they had seniors over there that were going to fight until the end. I just wanted to keep us on the edge and keep us locked in on making good decisions.”

Providence (28-7), the No. 2 seed, will host No. 3 Silverado in the state regional semifinals at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Silverado (28-6; Southern Section Division IV-AA semifinalist) defeated No. 6 San Diego, 62-57, in overtime in its second-round game.

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Independence (21-8; Central Section Division II semifinalist), the seventh seed, defeated CIF Central Section rival Lemoore in the first round , 76-71.

Levias scored 25 points on four-of-four shooting from three-point range and tallied 11 points in the fourth quarter to go along with 18 rebounds.

Pioneers juniors Bryce Whitaker added 16 points and Jordan Shelley scored 11.

“We knew we had to be physical and get a body out there and all five guys had to come back and rebound,” Levias said. “We did that and we got the rebounds.”

Independence was propelled by senior guard Elijah Carter, who scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Down the stretch, the Pioneers’ defense came up with a pair of turnovers to hold the Falcons to their second-lowest scoring game this season.

“We kept on pushing,” Whitaker said. “That’s a strong team. They know what they’re doing and they have a great coach, too. I think the hustle from the crowd really helped with the energy and we just went off from that.

“We studied a lot of their offense. We worked a lot on defensive slides and it helped here, so, props to coach for teaching us how to play defense.”

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The Pioneers established a five-point lead to start the game, but the Falcons climbed back to tie it at 9 with 3:36 left, then took the lead 30 seconds later.

Providence regained its lead, 16-14, with 1:30 left in the quarter, before a three-point basket gave Independence a one-point lead at the end of the quarter.

After only making one of his first five shots in the first quarter, Carter started to come alive and penetrated into the paint to either score a draw a foul. His efforts pulled the Falcons to within one, 25-24, midway in the second.

Though the Pioneers started clicking and pulled away, Carter again fueled the offense to tie the game at 29 with 1:22 left in the half.

“That kid can score,” Lincoln said. “He was versatile and we had a hard time guarding him. We kept telling the guys they’re playing well, we’re playing well, but we just have to gut it out and earn every possession and try to get some separation.”

A three-pointer from Levias gave the Pioneers a 32-29 lead at halftime.

A 6-0 run spurred Providence a 38-29 lead capped off by Levias’ third three-point make.

The teams started to get chippy down the stretch of the quarter as both teams received technical fouls, with Levias as one of the culprits. He was forced to sit out for much of the remainder of the quarter.

The free throws helped the Falcons cut the Pioneers’ lead to 44-41 at the end of the third quarter.

Providence outscored Independence, 7-1, to start the final quarter and upped the lead to 51-42.

Levias' put back a layup and knocked down a pair of free throws with 2:31 left to give the Pioneers their first double-digit lead, 55-45.

Another Levias put-back with 1:43 left gave Providence its largest lead of the game, 59-47.

“A’Jahni, a couple games ago, had a great game against Orange Vista and he’s really starting to come into his own as he’s getting more confident as our team is gelling together,” Lincoln said. “He’s starting to take some ownership for the team and the guys really look up to him, so I’m glad he was able to step up and bounce back from the technical that he got.”

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