In a championship-level game, between two state-ranked teams and the two best teams in the league, a couple of bounces of the basketball can determine the outcome.
That’s what happened at Harper Creek as No. 8-ranked Lumen Christi edged the Beavers, 71-68, in this Interstate 8 Conference boys’ basketball contest on Tuesday.
No. 6-ranked Harper Creek had the lead going into the final minute of the contest, but two late turnovers by the Beavers opened the door for Lumen Christi to rally for the win.
TraVon Johnson of Harper Creek drives to the outside of Khari Williams of Lumena Christi.
“We left a couple plays out there and they capitalized on it,” Harper Creek coach Matt Bowling said. “Give them credit, they made the plays at the end that we left for them, which was an unfortunate way for the game to end for us.”
With the Beavers up 66-65, an errant pass out of bounds for Harper Creek gave Lumen Christi the ball late in the game and the Titans took advantage the next time down the floor with a 3-pointer by Devin Edwards to give the visitors a 68-66 lead with :45 remaining.
On the next possession, a Lumen Christi trap caused the ball to be mishandled by Harper Creek and the subsequent turnover turned into a fastbreak dunk by the Titans’ Damarion Snellenberger for a 70-66 lead in the last 30 seconds of the contest.
Khari Willis made a late free throw with :08 left to keep the Titans lead at three as a late 3-pointer by Harper Creek missed the mark to hand the Beavers the loss.
“In a game like this, a few bounces here and there can decide it. A few bounces went the wrong way for them and our guys were able to take advantage,” Lumen Christi coach Rich Karasek said. “Devin’s three was huge and then us getting on the ground to get after that ball, that was big, too.
“Harper Creek is a real good basketball team and we knew we would have to play a real good game and have some things go right for us to get them and they did.”
Harper Creek and Lumen Christi came into the game tied for first in the league, so the winner was going to take a big step toward winning a league title. Harper Creek had handed Lumen Christi its only loss of the season so far earlier in the season. But, with the win, the Titans go to 10-1 in the Interstate 8 standings with Harper Creek falling a game behind at 9-2.
“Obviously, it feels good to get the win. We still have three more league games we have to take care of, but this one was the big one for us,” Karasek said.
Willis led Lumen Christi with 24 points and seven assists with Edwards adding 20 points, including three 3-pointers and Snellenberger had 15 points and nine rebounds. Tyler Moser chipped in 12 points, all on 3-pointers for the Titans, who improve to 15-1 overall as they enjoy their top 10 ranking in Class C.
Earlier in the contest, it looked as if Harper Creek was going to control this contest on its home floor.
The Beavers took their first key lead of the game after back-to-back 3-pointers by TraVon Johnson and Khylen Watkins to go up 28-27 with 5:15 left in the half. That lead grew to 37-33 by intermission.
The game grew tighter throughout the third quarter, but Harper Creek still led the entire second half until that point, up 53-52 heading into the final period.
A strong layup by Brandon Hutson stretched the lead to 59-53 for Harper Creek. The Beavers would then take their biggest lead of the second half on a layup by Watkins off a good no-look assist by Johnson in the paint to make it 61-53 with 5:10 remaining in the game.
But a 10-3 run by Lumen Christi heading into the final two minutes of the game set up the last-minute heroics by the Titans.
“We had a chance when we were up to step on their throats and we didn’t do it,” Bowling said. “When we changed defenses we have to rebound a little better out of it. If we rebound a bit better, and make a few more plays, just small plays, then the result changes.”
Johnson led Harper Creek with 25 points with seven assists with Watkins scoring 20 and James Cadena adding 17. Hutson chipped in six points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
With the loss, Harper Creek drops to 14-2 overall after climbing to its highest ranking of the season in Class B and has four games left before the district tournament begins.
“It was good for us to be in a tight, hard-fought, contested game like this. We have to use it as fuel for the tournament,” Bowling said.