With the Orange Empire Conference title on the line, the Lasers fell victim to their biggest adversity of the season – themselves.
The men’s basketball team saw its 12-game winning streak end with back-to-back losses in a week of turnover, free throw and attitude issues to drop their status from first to second in the OEC and dim their chances of a conference title from promising to precarious.
“We were in control. We had our destiny in front of us,” said coach Jerry Hernandez. “If something goes wrong on the court, their heads go down. We’re not exactly the Bobby Knight style, so I don’t see any reason why you have to put your head down.”
The trouble for the Lasers started Feb. 7 when, facing No. 6 Fullerton College (20-5, 7-1), the No. 2 team in the state fell victim to 25 turnovers and a 71-64 road loss to drop into a first place OEC tie with No. 10 Riverside College (22-6, 6-2).
With the stage set for a conference showdown, the Lasers (23-4, 6-2) clashed with both the Tigers and their own egos in Friday’s 74-68 loss to fall into second place behind the Hornets.
“We have some guys that are still pouting,” Hernandez said. “We have to get some of that back. Some of those guys get their feelings hurt a little bit and they’re not productive.”
The first time the teams met on the hardwood, one point decided the Lasers’ favorable outcome. Friday, free throws were the determining factor.
RCC was 12 of 12 from the line in the final three minutes where the Tigers extended their 58-57 lead to the six-point final decision. They shot 24 of 26 in the second half to finish with an 86.1 overall free throw percentage.
“If you hit free throws, you’re obviously going to win the game,” said Blake Wallace, who led his team with 13 points and nine rebounds. “They really took the wind out of our sails.”
The only other Laser to score in double-digits was freshman Jeff Ledbetter, who finished with 11 points. Sophomore Kashif Watson had nine points, five assists and three rebounds.
The Lasers’ only two losses came in back-to-back defeats in tournament play over two months ago when they saw their 11-0 start falter at the hands of LA City College.
After the Cubs edged a 77-74 victory in the finals of the Rio Hondo Tournament last December, IVC fell in the first round of the Saddleback Tournament in a 77-68 loss to LA Trade Tech.
If IVC returns to form and Riverside beats Fullerton, Feb. 13, a three-way tie conference championship tie may be the best the Lasers can hope for.
IVC will look to rebound from the duo of losses Wednesday when it hosts Santa Ana College (9-16, 1-6) at 7:30 p.m. The Lasers will then face Cypress College (13-14, 4-4) at home Friday.
“We’re looking at it like we lost two games early in the season, we won 12 in a row. We lost two right now, we’re looking to win another 12,” Wallace said. “So hopefully we’ll do that, get back on track and make it to the state championship.”
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