The562’s coverage of Jordan Athletics is sponsored by former LBUSD superintendent Chris Steinhauser.
The Jordan Panthers’ boys’ basketball season ended in heartbreak on Friday night, as a game winning lay-up by La Habra’s Grayson Sinek pushed the Highlanders, 75-73, to the CIF D3AA quarterfinals.
“Hell of a game, man. Hats off to La Habra,” said Jordan coach Chris Francis. “They are an experienced, veteran team that have been playing together for a while. We had them most of the game, but [La Habra] preserved. It was gritty, they were disciplined, and they were structured at the end and that was the difference in the game.”
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The game started off like one’s typical Francis-led Jordan team: high-tempo, physical, and intense. Jordan’s Jamar Andrews Jr. opened the game’s scoring with a nice easy lay-up, and the teams would trade possessions. The Panthers relied heavily on their senior leaders, George Pickens and Jay’mari Redmond to control the game. La Habra would have their first and only lead, until late in the fourth quarter, with 3:30 left in the first. Jordan would take the first quarter, 20-13.
Like the first quarter, J-Town opened the second quarter with the first points; however, Panthers would soon enter a scoring drought. La Habra chipped away the lead, as sophomore guard Acen Jimenez had 11 points alone. Trying to dictate the pace of play, both teams looked to press and trap the other, forcing bad shots yet open looks down low. Junior Josh Gibson ended the scoring drought with a pivotal three, which allowed Pickens and Redmond to get working and move the rock. With a late three by Redmond, J-Town entered the half up 41-32.
Coming out of the locker room, the experienced Highlanders exploded offensively. Scoring 23 points in the quarter, at 5:22 left in the quarter, La Habra made it a two point game. However, missed free throws prohibited the Highlanders from gaining the lead. Jordan’s Gibson continued to rain threes to keep it a two possession game, despite the Panthers getting out rebounded. With the last possession of the quarter, Redmond isolated himself, drew the defense, and kicked out to Pickens for a lead-securing three. At the end of the third quarter, Panthers led 60-55.
Jordan came out firing in the fourth as Gibson and junior Benjamin Taylor Jr sunk back-to-back threes, forcing La Habra to take a time out with 6:43 left in the game. Trying to put a lid on the game, Panthers continued to be physical on defense, limiting La Habra’s attack; however, offensive miscues would be detrimental.
With the combination of physical defense and empty offensive possessions, J-Town soon found themself in foul trouble, forcing them to lay off the gas. Realizing this, La Habra’s Jimenez and junior Jaedon Anderson took control of the fourth quarter. At 3:05, La Habra finally tied the game 68 a piece, and Ron Massey felt like Highlander Country from the sheer volume of La Habra’s fans.
Panthers’ Pickens hit two clutch free throws at 2:37 to keep momentum balanced; however, La Habra’s Jimenez would hit a corner three by the Highlanders’ bench to give La Habra’s first lead of the game since 3:30 in the first quarter, 71-70.
J-Town would continue to have staunch defense, but empty offensive possessions forced the Panthers to foul with under 90 seconds left in the game. Missed free throws would keep the Panthers in the game.
With under 15 seconds left, Francis calls a time out. Taylor inbounded the ball to Redmond, and Redmond zipped the ball to Gibson at the top of the arc to hit the game tying three with 5.4 left in the game. Ron Massey Court exploded in joy! La Habra’s head coach Aaron Rickenberg immediately called a timeout to draw up a play.
Crowd on their feet, momentum swinging each way, a trip to the quarterfinals on the line: La Habra inbounded to Sinek, and with one break to the inside placed the game winning lay up at the buzzer. La Habra won 75-73. Hearts broken, hands on heads, mouths opened, J-Town could not believe what happened.
La Habra plays Sage Hill on Feb. 13 in the CIF Division III AA quarterfinals. Despite the sting, Francis was proud of his team’s efforts tonight and the whole season.
“We had a lot of growing pains this year. We only had two seniors. We are going to take some time off to decompress, but I am real excited. We got a lot of guys coming back. We are gonna let them be kids again, but when they come back, we are going to get back to work,” explained Francis on looking ahead for J-Town.