AZUSA — The La Cañada High boys’ basketball team set itself up for a prime opportunity to tie the score down the stretch of its CIF Southern Section Division II-A championship game against Colony.
Down by two points, the Spartans had the chance to tie the game at 49 and were driving down the court after the Titans missed a free throw with 11.9 seconds left.
But a turnover with 7.2 seconds to go in regulation returned possession to Colony, which held on to defeat La Cañada, 50-47, to claim the title Saturday at Azusa Pacific University’s Felix Event Center on Saturday.
“I just think both teams played really hard,” La Cañada coach Tom Hofman said. “It was a good basketball game and the stars weren’t aligning for us tonight.”
The Spartans, the division’s third seed, saw their bid for their first CIF title since 2011 fall short.
La Cañada (27-5; Rio Hondo League champion) also had its 19-game winning streak snapped, after defeating Burbank, La Mirada, Walnut and Crean Lutheran in the playoffs to reach the final.
Top-seed Colony (26-5; Palomares League champion) turned aside Beaumont, West Ranch and Crescenta Valley on its way to the division title.
The Titans received a major scoring effort from senior Sedrick Altman, who tallied 21 points with eight in the third quarter that restored Colony’s lead,to 30-28.
Colony then closed out the third quarter with a pair of crucial three-pointers from Noah Castillo that established a 41-36 advantage.
“We played great,” Hofman said. “Both teams played great. Good defensive game; they got the last shot. We had a decent look at the end, but what killed us was when Ryan [Graves] got his third foul, we went zone to try to protect Ryan because he’s the only guy that can guard [Altman].
“They hit the two threes in a row and that was a big turning point in the game. Nothing you can do about it. We have to protect Ryan and the zone worked pretty well, but that was probably a bad call.”
Graves led the Spartans with 15 points and fellow senior Zach Feehan added 14 points and 16 rebounds.
“Coming down the stretch, when Noah Castillo hit back-to-back threes, it was tough,” Graves said. “We kind of dug ourselves into a bit of a hole. After that, it was just about getting a good look at the basket and getting a good stop.
“We made a little run and tied it back up when we were down five and that’s just from taking good shots.”
La Cañada clawed back to trail by just two, 49-47, with 13.2 seconds left after the Spartans scored a pair of lay-ups and the Titans missed two free throws in the final 38 seconds.
The turnover with 7.2 seconds left set up another Colony chance at the line, where guard Brenton Knapper knocked down one free throw to give the Titans a three-point lead with 6.2 seconds to play.
“They can score in bunches,” said Hofman, who also led the Spartans to a CIF crown in 1992. “I thought we did a good job defending. I thought Ryan Graves was phenomenal tonight scoring points and he guarded [Altman] really well tonight, so I was really happy.
“The whole team did a good job. We have a state playoff coming up and hopefully we can regroup and make a little bit of a run there.”
The Spartans set up an early three-point lead in the first quarter before the Titans climbed back and took a 9-5 advantage at 5:15 in the opening quarter.
Back-to-back baskets from Graves and Feehan tied it at 9, before Feehan closed the quarter out with a basket to make it 13-11.
La Cañada opened the second quarter on an 8-0 run, but the Spartans’ run woke up the Titans, who responded with their own 7-0 run to cut the deficit to 19-18 with 3:03 left in the first half.
Graves knocked down a three-pointer to end the Titans’ scoring run to make it a 22-18 Spartans lead with 1:53 left.
Altman scored the final four points for Colony in the final minute to secure 22-22 deadlock at the half.
The Titans took back the lead early in the second half, but a three-point play from Graves and a lay-up from Ryan Grande restored the Spartans’ lead to 28-24.
Colony answered right back and went on a 6-0 run to take a 30-28 lead. The teams then battled back-and-forth before Castillo hit two huge three-pointers to end the third quarter and give Colony, which won its second CIF title in the last three seasons, a 41-36 lead.
“Castillo has been a big kid for us,” Colony coach Jerry de Fabiis said. “When he hits those shots, all of a sudden, that zone opens up and softens it up. Last couple of games, he wasn’t doing so well, so we talked to him this week about shooters shoot and you have to have a short memory, and he stepped up big tonight. He’s a senior and he played like seniors play in a game like this.”
The teams went cold to start the final quarter, but Graves and Feehan again combined for consecutive baskets to tie the score at 41 with 4:04 left.
After scoring eight points in the third, the Spartans defense was able to lock in on Altman, forcing him to miss his first five shots of the quarter before a drive with 2:38 left gave the Titans a 45-41 lead.
“He’s a great player,” Graves said. “We were just trying to force him to the left. I was in a little bit of foul trouble there and just tried to do my best to stay in front of him and make him take a tough shot. When you have a player that’s that good, sometimes he’s going to make it, sometimes he’s not.”