NORTH HOLLYWOOD — The Providence High boys' basketball team suffered a big blow when it lost the services of Marcus LoVett Jr. for the season.
LoVett, one of the top sophomores in the country and the reigning All-Area Player of the Year, left the team last week and didn't play for the Pioneers in the inaugural Liberty League Tournament, which began Tuesday.
Providence Athletic Director Andrew Bencze confirmed that LoVett is finished for the season and not because of an injury, but said he's not at liberty to talk about the reason for the sophomore's departure. Bencze did add, however, that LoVett is still enrolled at the school.
Providence was able to survive the first round of the tournament without LoVett, squeaking out an overtime victory Tuesday against Oakwood.
However, in the semifinals Wednesday against Buckley, the Pioneers had to also play without starting point guard Jonathan Ly, who suffered an injury against Oakwood.
Without two starters, the Pioneers were no match for the Griffins, as Providence suffered a 51-38 loss at Oakwood High.
The loss puts the Pioneers (9-16) in a tough spot. Providence, the defending league champion which advanced to a CIF Southern Section championship game a year ago, must win Thursday's third-place game against Holy Martyrs to grab the final league automatic postseason spot. The game will be at 5 p.m. at Oakwood,
"We have to win that game or it's going to be a real early summer for us," Providence Coach Ernest Baskerville said.
With the two starters missing, Providence looked to Christian Ware-Berry. Ware-Berry logged his share of minutes and finished with a game-high 18 points. Teammate Brian Cabagnot added 11 points and Harrison Pyros contributed 11 rebounds.
"It's been a real learning experience for me this season," said Ware-Berry about having to step up in his share of games this year. "But I think that getting my share of playing time has helped my game a lot. I just go in there and give it all I've got."
Facing a tough Buckley (18-6) zone defense, the Pioneers had problems getting quality shots, often settling for long-range attempts.
The Providence offense struggled in the early going, converting just one of 13 shots from the floor in the first quarter. As a result, the Griffins jumped out to a 9-3 lead after one.
But the Pioneers settled in early in the second. A basket by Ware-Berry to open the frame and a three-pointer by DJ Cabrerra enabled Providence to tie the score at 9.
But that seemed to wake up the Griffins, who embarked on a 13-1 run to take a 22-10 advantage with 1:52 left. The Pioneers added a late basket to go into halftime down by 10.
Buckley came out in the second half and dominated the third quarter, ending the frame with a 45-24 cushion.
The Pioneers were able to whittle the lead down to 13 twice in the fourth quarter, but that's as close as they could get.
"With Jonathan, I think we probably win this game," Baskerville said. "With Marcus, I know we win this game. We just don't have a team right now with a lot of experience."