Joe Eberhard is clutch.
Eberhard tied the game in regulation and got the winning points in overtime Saturday (March 6) as the fourth-seeded Irvine Valley College men’s basketball team defeated fifth-seeded Mt. San Antonio College, 72-71, to advance to the State championship tournament.
“Joe Eberhard came through for us again,” IVC coach Jerry Hernandez said.
After taking control and sealing the game in the final minutes against Antelope Valley in the Regional semifinals, Eberhard did the same for the Lasers in the Regional final.
“I got into foul trouble, so I was fresh in the second half,” Eberhard said. “I wanted the ball in my hands, and I got it done.”
IVC improved to 26-4 overall and moves on to the State championship tournament. The Lasers will be the third-seeded team from Southern California and the fifth-seeded team in the State tournament. IVC draws the City College of San Francisco in the State quarterfinals Friday (March 12) at 3 p.m. at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. CCSF is the second seed from Northern California and will be the fourth-seeded team in the State tournament.
The berth into the State tournament is the first in the 18-year history of the program.
“It’s indescribable,” forward Travis Fulton said.
“It’s crazy,” Eberhard said. “It’s nice to see all the hard work we put it come out. We’re where we should be, and we feel we’re the best in the state.”
The berth is also the first in Hernandez’s 15-year career, and despite his huge smile, he had a tempered enthusiasm coming off this up-and-down thriller.
“We’re very excited,” Hernandez said. “It’s a first for us, but we sure didn’t make it easy.”
The Lasers turned the ball over 28 times in the game and only shot 47.5 percent from the field and 54.3 percent from the free-throw line.
“We have to take care of the ball and show more patience,” Hernandez said.
The two teams essentially matched each other shot for shot over the course of the game. A three-pointer would be matched by an opposing three-pointer. An and-one play would be followed by another and-one play. It was near impossible to measure the momentum spurred on by a raucous crowd of 700.
“This was the loudest it’s been in my 15 years,” Hernandez said. “It was our best attendance of the season.”
The largest lead of the game was held by the Lasers after an 8-0 run coming out of halftime tied at 34.
Mt. SAC thought it had the most important lead of the game at 65-62 with less than two minutes to play.
Eberhard hit the second of two free throws and came back and executed IVC’s game-trademarked backdoor cut play to tie the game at 65 with 31.4 seconds remaining in regulation.
“We kept our composure,” Hernandez said. “We ran that backdoor and Joe was there to force overtime.”
After a lightning-paced regulation, the overtime slowed down on both sides.
The Lasers held a 69-67 lead before Eberhard put in a lay-up with 38 second left and responded to two Mt. SAC free throws with one of his own and the 72-71 lead with 19.9 to play.
Mt. SAC got a lay-up with 6.1 seconds to play, but IVC never got the ball in on the pass and was called for an inbounds violation.
“Those last six seconds were some of the most nerve-wracking I’ve ever played in,” Fulton said.
The defense held pat, and just the same as regulation ended, Antonio Biglow missed a buzzer-beater for Mt. SAC.
Though Biglow failed on two potential game-ending shots, he led Mt. SAC with 28 points, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.
Fulton led the Lasers with a double-double of 22 points and 12 rebounds and added five assists, a block and a steal.
Durrell Norman was close behind with another double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds and added three assists, two blocks and a steal. Norman also led IVC with nine turnovers.
Eberhard rounded out with 16 points, seven rebounds and a steal.
Going into State, the Lasers may have to shore up some defensive lapses, but that won’t damper their confidence.
“We know we can win,” Fulton said. “We know we can make a run. We just have to go there and finish our business.”