ANCHORAGE — Hours before many capital city residents had downed their first cups of coffee, the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears’ boys basketball team had already put in a morning of hard work in the first game of the 4A state championships against the Service Cougars.
In, arguably, the most difficult game of tournament play the Crimson Bears and Cougars showed just how even their WPI rankings were in a 47-46 eye opener that dropped JDHS into consolation play and Service into the semifinals.
“We just wanted to win,” JDHS guard Lance Ibesate said. “We practiced all week at 6 a.m., we put in the hard work. It just went the other way. They are a very good team and good luck to them in the tourney.”
The Cougars used a barren beginning by the Crimson Bears in the fourth quarter to go on a 6-0 run and turn a 32-31 deficit into a 40-32 lead.
“We hit some dry spells,” JDHS coach Robert Casperson said. “And Service was able to take advantage of those.”
Ibesate and Tony Yadao hit back-to-back deep 3s to bring JDHS back within two and Austin Shoemaker tied the game on a shot under the hoop with 2:54 remaining to play, but Service’s Adam Klie hit two free throws to give the Cougars the lead again and Fairmang Touray nailed a 3 to swing the momentum again.
Evan Gross picked up his third foul with one minute remaining, but the Cougars couldn’t convert and Austin Shoemaker drove the baseline and was fouled, converting both free throws to narrow the deficit to two at 45-43.
A pair of Service free throws by Fairmang put the Crimson Bears down four with 20 seconds remaining. Yadao found nothing but net with a triple to put the game at 47-46 with 16.8 seconds remaining, but the Crimson Bears got caught in a defensive rotation and couldn’t find a foul to stop the action until 2.8 seconds remaining.
A key rebound by Shoemaker gave JDHS a desperation shot by player-of-the-game selection Yadao from half court. The ball caromed off the backboard and the rim as the buzzer sounded.
“We all knew that this was the game that we wanted,” Yadao said. “It was one of our goals to get past the first round. Service is a tough team and we prepared well. Both teams competed but at the end of the day one team has to lose.”
It was a tough loss for the Crimson Bears, as they seemed to have control of the tight ball game throughout the first three quarters of play.
Alec Calloway scored on a put back to open play and had two key rebounds and Shoemaker hit a short jumper for a 4-0 lead just one minute into play.
Service would go on a 6-0 run to take the lead and JDHS responded with a Yadao score and free throw and two Ibesate charity stripers to regain the edge on the scoreboard.
JDHS led 13-8 to start the second period and opened up the largest lead of the game at 19-11 as Yadao found two easy paths to the basket and Darien Stanger made two free throws. The Cougars closed the period with a 7-2 run to pull within four at the break, 21-17.
“No one tried to be a hero,” Casperson said. “They played like they have all season, as a team, and they trusted one another to get the job done. Our whole focus was attacking the rim and looking for layups and I think we did that.”
JDHS would score 16 points off turnovers and Service 12 on Crimson Bears’ miscues. The teams both hit more than 70 percent from the charity stripe with JDHS going 12-for-17 and Service 8-for-11. Rebounds were 28-25 in favor of the Cougars and scoring off the bench showed Service with an 11-9 advantage. JDHS was 40 percent from beyond the arc. Service hit 30 percent of its treys.
“We put a lot of pressure on their defense,” Casperson said. “And they put a lot of pressure on ours.”
Service went to a full-court press to open second-half play and pulled within a point before Yadao and Shoemaker notched free throws and Yadao buried another three-pointer for a 25-21 advantage. Gross and Ibesate had back-to-back blocks to keep the Crimson Bears rolling until Service’s Klie nailed a shot and a free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play that pulled the Cougars within one point starting the final period at 32-31.
The game featured five lead changes and five ties with Service taking the lead with a triple, opening the final period and JDHS tying the score for the last time at 2:54.
Ibesate was honored with a third team All-State selection by the Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches just prior to the state tournament.
“It feels good definitely and is a great honor,” Ibesate said. “But we are not in this for individual awards, we want that team award. We have to keep our heads up and not be devastated by this loss. We have to keep working. It is not over yet.”
Yadao led the Crimson Bears with 18 points and pulled three rebounds, Ibesate added eight points and four assists, Shoemaker had seven points and two rebounds, Phillip Fenumiai scored five points and grabbed a team-high six boards, Calloway added four points with four rips, and Stanger two points.
Klie led Service with 12 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, Touray and Marquis Robinson scored 10 apiece, Darren Muller seven, Aukusitino four, Ihro Raguindin and AJ Collins two apiece.
“My hat’s off to them (Service), but I tell you what, I am really proud of our guys,” Casperson said. “We didn’t do anything wrong. I think we played a pretty good high school basketball game. I think our guys executed all the things that I asked them to and that we had prepared for and sometimes when you do that you can still come up short. I am disappointed for our guys but certainly not in them. They played hard and just came up short today.”
The Crimson Bears now face the loser of the 5 p.m. matchup between No. 1 seed Wasilla and eighth-seeded Lathrop. It is another early breakfast game, scheduled for an 8 a.m. tip. Another game the Crimson Bears have prepared to serve up some high intensity play in.
“You still can’t take away all the success we have had this year,” Yadao said. “We still have a chance to end our season with a win and that is what we are looking forward to doing. We all look up to each other and believe in each other. It is not just one person on this team; we need everyone and that is the key that has held us together this season. And coach Casperson has held us to that.”
In the locker room after the loss the Crimson Bears regrouped.
“I told them it was just time for us to change our goal,” Casperson said. “Our goal was to come up here and work to win a state championship. It didn’t happen. Sometimes in life your goal’s need to change when the situation and the circumstances change. That is what we are going to do. We are going to change our focus and prepare for our next opponent.”