ANCHORAGE — Round 1 of the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska Basketball State Championships hasn’t been kind to the Juneau-Douglas boys’ basketball team in recent years.
Nothing changed this season.
The Crimson Bears lost in the opening round for the sixth time in six years Thursday, falling 51-45 to North Pole at Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena.
Juneau-Douglas, the No. 4 seed, faces No. 8 Kodiak at 11:30 a.m. today for a chance to play in the fourth-place game Saturday morning. No. 5 North Pole advances to the semifinals, where top-seeded Bartlett awaits.
“It’s still basketball and we’ve still got to compete,” JDHS coach Steve Potter said of regrouping for Friday’s consolation game. “If we’re not ready to play, we’re not going to be very happy at this time tomorrow.”
It was a back-and-forth affair against North Pole, which hit 7 of 11 free throws inside the final two minutes to salt away the victory.
Neither team led by more than six points until the final two minutes, and there were five ties and five lead changes.
North Pole held a 40-38 edge with about five minutes to play, but the Bears didn’t score another field goal until there was less than a minute left.
Up 44-38, the Patriots killed 1:25 off the clock following a timeout at the 3:33 mark. The Bears chose not to foul and didn’t implement a half-court trap as the Patriots tossed the ball around the perimeter.
A.J. Scott, who led the Patriots with 16 points, sealed the game by hitting on 4 of 8 free throws inside the final two minutes.
Meanwhile, the Bears couldn’t knock down shots when they needed to most. Cold shooting hampered them entire way.
Juneau-Douglas went 3-for-17 from the arc, 17-for-37 from the field and made just 2 of 8 free throws.
“The guys played extremely hard; it wasn’t for a lack of effort,” Potter said. “Sometimes you make shots and sometimes you don’t. Today, we didn’t.”
Junior point guard Lance Ibesate scored 13 points to pace the Bears, who were at their best when the tempo was fast. They also found success inside when they got the ball into the post, but it didn’t happen enough.
Forward De’Andre “Jazz” King shot 60 percent from the field but took only five shots, finishing with seven points.
“We didn’t get him the ball enough,” Potter admitted.
And when the ball went to the perimeter, the Bears failed to convert — even when they had open looks.
“They were sagging,” Potter said of North Pole’s defense. “I think we were a little impatient early on. The pressure of the moment kind of kicked in, but we got the shots we thought we were going to get.”
Points didn’t exactly come easy for the Patriots, either.
North Pole finished 17 of 41 from the field and missed its only 3-point attempt. But the Patriots made 17 free throws — or 15 more than the Bears.
“Our plan was to make them work for everything,” Potter said, “and I thought we did make them work.”
Jesse Ward, a 6-foot-6 southpaw, scored 13 points for the Patriots.
Scott said the emphasis for North Pole was to make the most of each possession and avoid silly mistakes. Each time the Bears sped up the tempo, Scott slowed it down, setting up the Patriots’ half-court offense.
“Just take care of the basketball,” he said.
The teams exchanged baskets throughout the first half, and the Bears held the lead on three different occasions.
And although the disappointment was clear, Potter said Juneau-Douglas can still improve upon last season’s tournament effort when they lost both games.
“It’s a measure of whether we are better than last year or not,” he said, referring to a pair of blowout losses. “That’s not what we want to have happen.”