LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — Perhaps the Flintridge Prep boys' basketball team could have found a way to overcome committing 24 turnovers, or figured out how to make up for a night on which it shot less than 50% from the free-throw line.
Maybe even getting outrebounded by St. Bernard or struggling mightily from three-point range alone might not have kept the Rebels from beating the Vikings in the second round of the CIF State Division V playoffs, but it wasn't just one of those deficiencies that plagued Prep Thursday night at St. Francis High — it was all of the above.
After keeping it close in the first half, Prep was a step behind St. Bernard's hectic pace throughout the second half of a 68-54 loss.
"We were still in the game with five minutes left and an eight-point margin," said Rebels Coach Garrett Ohara, whose team won the Southern Section Division 5-AA championship on Saturday and entered the state tournament as the No. 2 seed in the Southern California bracket. "We were just hoping at some point things would settle down or we would knock down a shot or make a free throw."
Jason Pepperes' three-pointer, set up by one of St. Bernard's 18 offensive rebounds, gave the Vikings a 49-40 lead with just over five minutes to play and the lead was pushed into double-digits for good not long after.
Prep center Kenyatta Smith's final moment of his high school career and dominant senior season was quite fittingly a spin and slam dunk over a pair of defenders, but with a 14-point deficit with 41.5 seconds left, all his emphatic two-hand stuff could do was alleviate some of the frustration at being bottled up the entire second half.
After scoring 10 points in the first quarter to help the Rebels weather an early 9-0 run by the Vikings, Smith was held to nine for the rest of the game by a combination of multiple defenders attached to him and a full-court press that kept the Rebels from effectively running their halfcourt offense, when not turning the ball over outright.
"We weren't really playing our game, we weren't slowing things down, we were sort of trying to rush everything," Smith said. "We've got to realize that once we slow things down, everything in the halfcourt will come. Our halfcourt offense was starting to work, we just forced too many turnovers on ourselves. We basically defeated ourselves."
Prep (24-7), which shot 32% from the field on the game, made just two of 13 shots in the third quarter, which saw St. Bernard pull away from a three-point halftime lead to a 42-33 advantage at the 4:47 mark.
St. Bernard (24-8), which was led by 20 points from Thurman Thomas and 18 from Brandon Randolph, went into its own scoring slump later in the third, but, despite scoring just two points over the final 4:47, still led by eight going into the fourth.
"There were no surprises," Ohara said of St. Bernard's defensive game plan." I thought it was a little surprising how we reacted to it though. We prepared for it so we know we were ready, but it made us rush things, not only our passes, but our shots.
"It was a collective effort for us, but usually one or two guys is stepping up, especially on the offensive end. We couldn't find that tonight."
St. Bernard started the game the way it finished it, forcing four turnovers in the first 2:18 and pushing the tempo to spring out to a 9-0 lead.
Once Smith got going, with a deep layup on a feed from Jared Norsworthy, he didn't stop, coming back with a dunk on the next possession and blocking a shot that led to a Jedrick Eugenio layup that cut the lead to 9-6 moments later.
Eugenio, who had 12 points, sank a three to put Prep up, 16-13, at the end of the quarter and early in the second quarter it was the Rebels looking primed to open a big lead when they took a 20-13 advantage on a steal and fast-break finish by Norsworthy.
But St. Bernard responded quickly, turned up the pace again with Smith on the bench near the end of the second quarter and used a 6-0 run to end the half.
"That's a credit to St. Bernard," Ohara said, "what they do to hurry you, to get you out of your comfort zone and make decisions in a hurry."