Desert Vista’s, 77-67, loss to Pinnacle High School in Wednesday’s 6A boys’ basketball semifinal round, at Wells Fargo Arena, was much closer than the double-digit margin might suggest.
With 20.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Desert Vista senior Wesley Harris was fouled coming down with a defensive rebound and calmly hit both free throws to tie the game at 67.
Little did the Thunder know they had scored their last points of the game, including four minutes of overtime.
Desert Vista grabbed a miss by talented Pinnacle guard Nico Mannion with 7.2 seconds left and took a timeout. Thunder guard Tyrek Chambers took the inbound pass, drove the court and dished a pass to senior Jaden Rollins, who narrowly missed a corner jumper with two seconds left. The miss was just one of many chances Desert Vista failed to capitalize on that could have won the game.
“One possession, one turnover, and it’s a different game,” Desert Vista coach Gino Crump said.
After Desert Vista center Christian Anigwe fouled out trying to rebound a missed free throw on the offensive end with 5:10 left in the fourth quarter the Thunder’s offense went a bit stagnant.
Anigwe had a team-high 19 points and was effective at posting up for baskets near the basket, grabbing offensive rebounds for put-backs and converting on pick-and-roll layups. When he fouled out, the Thunder not only lost their leading scorer for the game, but also their best rim protector.
Pinnacle utilized the limited protection near the basket to draw a lot of shooting fouls and ended the game 25-30 on free throws.
“A lot of people think he’s a shot blocker, so you can’t go at him or go in there, but it’s really the other way around,” Pinnacle guard Nico Mannion said. “If you can get in there and get them in foul trouble, it’s harder for them to block and manipulate shots.”
In overtime, the Thunder could not limit Mannion, who finished with a game-high 34 points, including 15-17 from the free throw line, and the Pinnacle defense made it incredibly difficult for Chambers to get to the rim and score or kick out to his teammates for open layups.
“I was in foul trouble, so we ended up putting Jordan (Mains) on Chambers, so he just used his length to make him take difficult shots. It was a team effort, and it was just flowing,” Mannion said.
While the Thunder relied heavily on play from their three senior big men for offense the entire season, the team had one of its worst shooting nights of the season, hitting none of its 12 three-point attempts and only hitting 19 of 29 free throws.
“I told them at the beginning of the game, you go to an arena, sometimes the depth perception alters shots. We’re a better shooting team than we demonstrated,” Crump said.
It was Pinnacle’s goal the entire game to force those shots, and it ended in their favor.
“We wanted to make them shoot, because we know they were better at driving and better athletes, so we were just pinching and making them shoot jumpers,” Mannion said.
Overall, Crump said he was proud of the way his team has performed all year, particularly the four seniors in the starting lineup, Harris, Anigwe, Rollins and guard Alijah Gammage. The team lost players at the beginning of the season and had some struggles along the way. However, even though Wednesday’s loss hurt, there were plenty of fond memories to be shared from a successful season.
“Phenomenal season. We had a great year, and we had a great run. It’s just very painful to lose a game like this, the way we lost it, because we had the game in the bag,” Crump said.