PASADENA — Both the La Salle High and La Cañada boys basketball teams had the right to be tired as they matched up in a nonleague contest Saturday night with both squads coming off league victories Friday night. In addition, both squads were playing their third game in four nights.
However, in the first half it was obvious the host Lancers were ready to go as they doubled up the Spartans after one quarter and led by 19 at half.
"We knew coming into this game that [La Canada] was going to be a good physical team that played the whole game," Lancers Israel Lacy said. "So we knew we had to step it up even more if we were going to get this win."
Then, in the second half, it became evident that the Spartans had plenty left in the tank as they closed to within seven in the final minute before falling, 60-51, despite winning the second half by 11 points.
"You know, [La Salle] is a good team," La Cañada Coach Tom Hofman said, "They kicked our butts in the first half and we beat them in the second half, so I was proud of them. We got a lot out of this game. I think we showed ourselves we can stay with some really good talent."
La Salle (10-7) led, 37-18, at halftime thanks in no small part to Vance Jackson, who poured in 22 of his game-high 31 points in the first two quarters. The 6-foot-7 freshman outscored the Spartans in the first quarter, 10-9, with his teammates adding another eight points to lead, 18-7.
Jackson had two of his seven three-point baskets in the first quarter and added four more in the second quarter.
"That's just what I do," Jackson said of his long-distance scoring output, "I practice that every day."
Jackson finished with the 31 points, a team-high eight rebounds, two steals, one block and one assist. The freshman's 12 points in the second were once again more than La Cañada, which only scored nine.
At the half it was a 19-point game, with Jackson outpacing the Spartans, 22-18.
"He's still learning," Lacy said of Jackson, "but for him to be as good as he is, and productive as he is, it is really a joy to have him."
The second half was a different story, as La Cañada (11-9) came out energized taking it to the Lancers on both ends of the floor opening up on a 10-2 run. Jackson then scored the next five points to keep the advantage in double digits, but the Spartans kept at it, cutting the lead to 14 after three.
The game looked to be in the bag as La Salle came out and scored the first six points of the final quarter, pushing the advantage to a game-high 20 points. However, the Spartans scored the next 10 points with nine of those points coming from three baskets from long distance.
Later in the frame, after a lay-in by La Salle's Lacy put his team back up by 13 with under two minutes to go. The Spartans kept at it once more by scoring the next six points to pull to within seven with 34 seconds to go.
But, that would be as close as they would come, as Lacy sank two free throws with 17 seconds remaining to score the game's final points and effectively end the comeback attempt.
"We play well in the first half and then we relax," La Salle Coach Jelani Gardner said. "We get up by 20 and we relax. We need to learn how to finish games."
Lacy was second on the team in points with 12, including a team-high six in the fourth. The senior also filled up the rest of the stat line with nine assists, seven steals, five rebounds and one block.
"We got flat again [in the fourth] and that is why the game was so close at the end," Lacy said. "It shouldn't have been that close."
Lancers Chris Robinson came off the bench to score eight points and pull down five boards. The sophomore was especially important in the second half as the Spartans paid extra defensive attention to Jackson on the perimeter, leaving Robinson room to work inside.
The Spartans, who did not start a senior, were led in scoring by two underclassmen with 12. Sophomore Brandon Hempstead had all on his 12 on four baskets from beyond the arc, including two in the first quarter when La Cañada scored all its points from three-point range. Freshman Koko Kurdoghlian scored all of his 12 points in the second half, with 10 in the final quarter to key the comeback effort.
"I don't think I've ever not started a senior," Hofman said. "It's good for the future. I think the bottom line is we're playing like a young team... I was really encouraged by that second half."