By Jeremy Balan
SACRAMENTO — The Sacred Heart Cathedral boys basketball team’s chances of winning a state championship simply rolled off the rim in a 71-67 loss to Bishop Alemany of Mission Hills in the California Interscholastic Federation Division III championship game on Saturday at Power Balance Pavilion.
Down 69-67 with under 30 seconds remaining, Sacred Heart junior guard Khalil James drove into the lane and released a shot. The ball bounced off the rim and Sacred Heart senior forward Taylor Johns skied for the rebound, tipped the ball softly back onto the rim, but the ball swirled off the back iron.
Alemany standout senior Marqueze Coleman took in the ensuing rebound and was immediately fouled with 9 seconds left.
“We were not going to lose this game on an offensive rebound,” Coleman said. “I snatched the rebound to secure the win. We weren’t going to lose on that.”
That’s when a big-time player hit two big-time shots.
Coleman, headed to Nevada next season, sank both free throws to cap off a game-high 27 points and put the game out of reach.
“[I] make two and the game is over,” Coleman said.
Coleman was undoubtedly the best player on the floor, but the game was dictated by officiating and foul trouble throughout.
In the first half, Coleman and fellow starters Jerico Richardson and Bear Henderson all missed significant time, and the Irish (28-6) held a 40-32 advantage at the break.
In the third quarter, Johns, who was on pace to set a state championship game record with 14 first-half rebounds to go along with 11 points, received his fourth foul, as did standout perimeter defender Herman Pratt.
Their absence allowed Alemany (33-4) to outscore the Irish 23-11 in the third quarter and to take a 55-51 lead heading into the fourth. Forty total fouls were called, including three technicals, with 20 fouls apiece for each team.
“I had guys on the bench watching the game with me — players I need to have on the floor,” said Sacred Heart head coach Darrell Barbour. “That’s critical. That being said, our kids kept fighting back.”
The pair’s foul trouble not only limited the Irish’s offense (Johns was held to two points in the second half), but the way they defended Coleman and Alemany point guard Max Guercy, who finished with 19 points. Pratt was no longer defending Coleman and the driving Alemany guards did not have to worry about Johns’ long shot-blocking arms in the paint.
“In the first half, I thought we were the better team,” Barbour said. “To me, it was quite clear. They had some guys in foul trouble too, but when it was our five best players against their five best players, I thought we were the better team.”
Johns’ time on the bench also impacted the Irish rebounding game. The 6-foot-6 senior outrebounded the Warriors by himself in the first half (14-11), but Alemany outrebounded Sacred Heart 22-17 in the second half.
“Taylor is a big body, athletic, takes up space, shot-blocker. Herman is one of the best on-the-ball defenders in high school I’ve ever seen,” Barbour said. “You take them off the floor and their aggressiveness away . . . in our psyche and from a confidence standpoint, we got caught back on our heels.”
Sacred Heart senior forward Joshua Fox buoyed the Irish in the second half with 12 points, but the SHC guards, which scored 22 points in the first half, scored only 13 in the second.
“What a tale of two halves . . . they did a great job of persevering,” said Alemany head coach Tray Meeks. “We talked about only being down by eight [at the half], because our guys can score and when we play defense, we’re tough to deal with.”
The Irish scoring totals weren’t as important as their efficiency, though, as Sacred Heart shot 60 percent from the floor in the first half, but just 34 percent in the second half and 19 percent in the crucial third quarter. The Irish also shot 12-of-20 from the free-throw line, while Alemany made 22-of-29.
“We lost to a very good team, a team that didn’t quit,” Barbour said. “We got out of character in the third quarter, kinda like the first quarter in the [Bishop] O’Dowd game. We rushed on offense [and] took too many jumpers instead of attacking them.”
Fox totaled a team-high 19 points and Johns finished with a 13 points and 19 rebounds, but the statistics didn’t take away the sting of the final result, as both spent the postgame ceremony with their heads deeply buried in their hands.
Barbour, who has heaped praise on the tightly-knit group all season, also had a rare moment of emotion in the postgame press conference.
“It feels different to win your last game than lose your last game,” Barbour said, his voice just barely quivering.
Marqueze Coleman – 27
Max Guercy – 19
Bear Henderson – 12
KJ Moffett – 8
Michael Coleman – 3
Sacred Heart Cathedral
Joshua Fox – 19
Tyler Petroni – 15
Taylor Johns – 13
Herman Pratt – 10
Two players tied with 5 points