SAN BERNARDINO — The Aquinas High basketball team punched its ticket to a section championship game for the second consecutive year with two home victories.
The Falcons defeated Lakewood 84-80 in overtime on Tuesday, June 1, and overwhelmed Cerritos Valley Christian 83-65 on Friday, June 4.
The victories put Aquinas in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA title game on Wednesday, June 9, (too late for publication) against Riverside King.
Aquinas trailed Lakewood 69-61 with 4:51 left in the game when it mounted its comeback.
Grant drove for a lay-in under heavy pressure. Then Grant sank two free throws, preceding a difficult lay-in by Hopkins.
A traveling violation by Lakewood with 3:11 left led to two free throws by Hopkins and Aquinas led 71-69 with 2:25 left in regulation.
It remained tight the rest of the way, especially after Lakewood’s Jalen Shores made a free throw with 1:31 left to tie the game 75-75.
Following some turnovers, Shores missed a 15-footer with six seconds left, then Grant’s half-court shot at the buzzer missed, sending the game into overtime.
Aquinas fans despaired when Shores made a three with 3:33 left to put Lakewood ahead 78-75. But then Lakewood fouled Grant with 1:33 left in OT and he made the front end of a one-and-one and missed the second — but Hopkins alertly grabbed the rebound and his putback tied the game 78-78.
“Sheldon doesn’t miss too many free throws, but when he did, I was right there,” Hopkins said. “I was just glad that I could get a rebound and score for us.”
Then Grant took over. His four free throws in the next 50 seconds were countered only by a Lakewood field goal and Aquinas led 82-80 with 11 seconds left.
Lakewood had a chance to tie or take the lead with a three but was called for a double dribble with five ticks left. Grant then clinched the game with two more free throws.
Aquinas, with the game on the line, repeatedly gave the ball to Grant and cleared a side of the court to let him operate.
“I was made for this moment,” Grant said. “I wanted to get to the line and knock them down.”
Said Johnson, “He’s definitely clutch. We wanted to see the ball in his hands in crunch time.”
Lakewood coach Duane Cooper was not pleased with a few of the calls in OT, but credited Aquinas.
“We had a travel call and then a double dribble call,” he said. “It’s tough to lose a game like that when it’s been going on the whole game.
“But they’re a tough team. They did what they do, and they did it a little bit longer than we did.”
Grant led all scorers with 38 points and Hopkins added 33. Kuliev was the only other Falcon in double-figure scoring with 11.
Shores paced Lakewood (13-6) with 23 points and Mason Pacheco added 28.
Aquinas stormed to a 38-24 halftime lead in its victory against Valley Christian.
Hopkins led the Falcons with 24 points, Grant had 22, Kuliev chipped in with 18, Keishmer Charles had 13 and Rodarian Abercrombie six.