SANTA ANA — With nine points scored by Marcus LoVett, Jr. inside the final minute and 45 seconds of overtime, the Providence High boys’ basketball team finished Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Division 5-A championship game on a tear that almost forced a second extra session.
But the freshman phenom’s one-man show down the stretch, which included a steal of an inbound play with three seconds left that gave the top-seeded Pioneers one more chance to tie the game, couldn’t make up for the previous nearly eight minutes in which the team went scoreless from the field.
During that span, the Pioneers blew a nine-point fourth-quarter lead to third-seeded Holy Martyrs, allowing their Liberty League rival to steal the title with a 65-62 win at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana.
“It was a little bit frustrating,” said LoVett, Jr., who led all scorers with 38 points on 13 of 34 shooting from the field, as the entire team shot just 33% (22 of 65). “We didn’t make some key shots that we should have made, but we have to just live with that now.”
Despite losing both regular season meetings to Providence (25-5), the Armens (20-11) wouldn’t be denied Saturday, continuously hitting big three-point shots (eight of 20), led by 30 points from Nshan Kenjejion.
Kenjejion’s sixth three-pointer of the game gave Holy Martyrs a 57-53 lead with 2:00 left in overtime and, although LoVett, Jr. started his finishing kick on a floater the next trip down for the Pioneers’ first points from the field since the 5:18 mark of the fourth quarter, the Armens would get two more consecutive stops and go a perfect eight for eight from the free-throw line down the stretch of overtime to protect the lead.
“This game hurt,” said Pioneers senior guard Patrick Gonzalez, who finished with seven points, but was called for traveling as he tried to step behind the three-point line for a potential game-tying buzzer-beater after LoVett, Jr. saved his overtime steal to Gonzalez while falling out of bounds. “I feel like we should have won it and we just didn’t play to our capabilities.”
The Pioneers’ regrettable trend of finishing quarters flat offensively began in the second, where neither team scored over a period of 5:03 until LoVett, Jr. sank a three-pointer with 12 seconds left to put Providence up, 25-23, at the half.
In the third quarter, the Pioneers scored just two points over the final 4:28 and this time paid for it by losing a seven-point lead and trailed by two going into the fourth.
Providence enjoyed its best run of the game to start the fourth, though, and looked ready to finally take control with an 8-0 run that led to the biggest lead of the game, 46-38, with 5:18 left.
But the Pioneers once again went ice cold from the field the rest of regulation, surviving to force overtime on the strength of six free throws by LoVett, Jr. alone.
“We just had a poor shooting night, it happens,” Pioneers Coach Ernest Baskerville said. “At the end of quarters, we couldn’t knock anything down. It’s unfortunate.”
Holy Martyrs began the comeback from down eight on back-to-back threes by Kenjejion and Haig Terterian at the 3:54 mark. Varak Ghazarian later tied the game for the Armens on a layup with under two minutes to go and Kenjejion sank a three-pointer while being fouled for a four-point play and 52-48 lead with 58 seconds left in regulation.
“They got great shooters and we didn’t close out and get up on them,” LoVett, Jr. said. “We played some bad defense.”
But LoVett was fouled with 20.4 seconds left and calmly sank both shots to take the game to overtime.
“I was honestly very scared [heading into overtime],” Kenjejion said. “I just didn’t want to lose this one.”
With his team down six with 32.8 seconds left in overtime, LoVett, Jr. took over, knocking down a runner with 25.9 left and completing a coast-to-coast drive with 10.7 to go, keeping the Pioneers within 63-59. After another pair of Armens free throws, he pulled up for a three-pointer with 3.3 seconds to go and sank it, setting up his steal that nearly kept the game going.
“At that time, we played with a little bit more heart at the end,” LoVett, Jr. said. “It worked successfully at the end, but the overtime didn’t work for us.”
Jonathan Ly finished with nine points for Providence, but was the only other Pioneer to score more than three points.
“The whole game we were having to scrap and fight,” Baskerville said. “We never really seemed to get into a rhythm. We weren’t running our zone offense correctly. It almost seemed like we looked rattled and I was shocked because we’ve been in these kind of games before.
“They challenged our other guys to take shots. They double-teamed Marcus, there was no lane for him to penetrate, so he would give the ball up and we couldn’t hit shots.”