Kashif Watson’s prayer 3-pointer with five seconds remaining fell in the same direction as his team’s attempt to erase an 11-point halftime deficit and reach its first state championship tournament in program history.
The No. 6 seeded Irvine Valley College trailed No. 3 seeded Los Angeles Trade Technical by as much as 15 points with 11:35 left in Saturday’s Southern California Regional playoff final, but closed the gap with clutch shooting from long distance.
Sophomore Blake Wallace, who had a game-high 21 points and 12 rebounds, capped off a 10-2 Lasers run with a three-pointer that brought his team to within six points with 6:39 to play.
His next three-pointer, four minutes later, cut the Beavers’ advantage to 72-67. Teammate Jason Toney’s three-pointer with 59 seconds left pulled IVC to within three points – the closest it had been since the 11:05 mark in the first half.
After one free throw by Watson and one very costly turnover by the Beavers, La’Shard Anderson dialed in his final three from long distance (he finished with 16 points) to make it 81-80 Trade Tech with 11 seconds to play.
That set up two Beavers free throws, Watson’s three-point miss and the duo of trips to the line to end the season for the Lasers, who finished the regular season in second place in the Orange Empire Conference.
“Our two goals were to win the conference title and reach Stockton,” said coach Jerry Hernandez. “To be so close and not get there, the mood [in the locker room] was a little somber, to say the least.”
Bryce Webster had nine points and 12 rebounds, Anderson had 16 points and Watson had nine points and four assists for the Lasers, who matched the Beavers in all major statistical categories, but had no answer for Trade Tech’s four double-digit scorers.
IVC had just three scorers in double-figures on Saturday, a scenario that occurred in three of their five losses this season, including an earlier 77-68 loss to Trade Tech in the Saddleback Classic.
Saturday’s two-point loss at Trade Tech came as a disappointingly premature finale to a 27-5 overall finish, which was a program record for most victories in a season.
“The success [this season was] fantastic,” Hernandez said. “On the other side of that, I wish I could have done more as a coach, got one more basket out of them, one more play.”
Hernandez, who returned last fall for his 13th season, was accompanied on the bench by first-year assistant coach Andy Ground.
Ground joined IVC’s ranks after eight seasons at Saddleback alongside Bill Brummel, and currently holds an undetermined future based on whether any head coaching opportunities open.
“We were blessed… It’s like having two head coaches,” Hernandez said. “If he goes back to Saddleback, they could immediately go to state.”
The only two Lasers who have committed to four-year colleges thus far are Webster and Anderson, who will be playing Division I basketball at Utah State and Boise State, respectively.