Panthers' comeback comes up just short in AAA semis

Abby Senior point guard Jamie Konrad hit this three-pointer with 9.1 seconds left to bring his team to within one point of the STM Knights, but the Panthers ended up falling 73-71. - Dan Kinvig
Abby Senior point guard Jamie Konrad hit this three-pointer with 9.1 seconds left to bring his team to within one point of the STM Knights, but the Panthers ended up falling 73-71.
— image credit: Dan Kinvig

There were tears shed in the Abbotsford Senior Panthers' locker room after a heartbreaking defeat in the provincial semifinals on Friday evening.

Facing the St. Thomas More Knights of Burnaby at the B.C. AAA high school boys basketball championship at the Langley Events Centre, the top-seeded Panthers battled back from a 12-point deficit with less than five minutes remaining in regulation. They got to within 72-71 on Jamie Konrad's contested three-pointer with 9.1 seconds left on the clock.

But that was essentially Abby Senior's last possession.

After sending the Knights to the free throw line intentionally, the Panthers couldn't come up with a defensive rebound, and St. Thomas More escaped with a 73-71 win.

Abby Senior plays for bronze vs. the Mark Isfeld Ice of Courtenay on Saturday (1:45 p.m., LEC), and head coach Prentice Lenz acknowledged it will be a challenge for his squad to mentally regroup after the semifinal disappointment.

"They'll have a rough night tonight, and they'll have to get together tomorrow and see what we can do," he said.

"But this is a phenomenal group, and a real fun group to coach. Like I told them in there (the locker room), I'm incredibly proud to be a part of what's gone on this season and the character they had in the games. It's a special group."

The Knights came out on fire to start the game and built a nine-point lead in the second quarter, but the Fraser Valley champs rallied to surge ahead by three in the third quarter.

STM took over at that point, though – with guard Justin Deslauriers (25 points) and forward Reese Morris (22 points) leading the way, they raced ahead once again and claimed a 67-55 lead with less than five minutes left.

But the Panthers, out of sync offensively for much of the night, found their collective shooting strokes just in time. Sirban Gill ignited a 16-5 run with a pair of three-pointers, and Luke Tompkins and Konrad hit high-pressure treys of their own to get the deficit down to one in the waning seconds.

That's when Abby Senior started getting the worst case of deja vu, as time and time again they couldn't corral a defensive rebound.

The Panthers fouled STM guard Terrell Jana, and he co-operated by missing both free throws. But his second attempt caromed hard off the rim and right into the hands of Morris, who was immediately fouled with 4.9 seconds left.

He too missed both tries from the charity stripe, but the Knights' Drew Belgrave collected another long rebound and was fouled with 3.7 seconds remaining.

Belgrave hit the first and missed the second, and the Panthers' nightmare continued, as STM's Jana came up with the loose ball. There were just 1.1 seconds left at this point, and though Jana missed both foul shots, all Abby's Chase Claypool could do after securing the rebound was whirl and fire a desperation shot from under his own basket. The prayer was not answered.

"(The rebounds) all just seemed to go in a variety of directions, and they never wanted to bounce to us," Lenz said.

"They (the Knights) did a really nice job tonight. Their team defence was good – they really forced us to extend on offence, and we really just couldn't get into a flow."

Claypool and Tompkins tied for team-high scoring honours with 20 points apiece, while Gill (11) and Konrad (10) also scored in double figures for the Fraser Valley champs. Gill and Claypool both hauled in 15 rebounds.

Both teams shot the ball poorly from the foul line – the Knights were 8-for-28, while the Panthers were 8-for-19.

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