By: Eric Smith
LANCASTER – The only sound in Marauder Gym came from the Cerritos bench.
On the side of the Antelope Valley College men’s basketball team, there was nothing but a stunned silence.
The bracket’s top seed was bounced in the Southern California semifinals Wednesday night as the Marauders missed a game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds to lose 77-75 to eighth-seeded Cerritos.
"This hurts like crazy because I really thought we were the best team in the state," said AVC head coach John Taylor. "Maybe we don’t jump the highest or run the fastest but I thought we were the best team in the state.
"I don’t want this one game to ruin anything because we had a fantastic season. Even if I knew we were going to lose, I’d take this team over all the other teams in the state and that includes the one that wins it."
Added AVC sophomore forward Daviyon Draper: "This was the last thing we expected. We had plans to go all the way but it didn’t happen."
The Marauders, who earned the No. 1 seed for the first time in school history, finished their historic campaign at 27-5, good enough for fourth-most wins for any AVC men’s team. The Marauders’ .843 winning percentage is third-best all-time.
But for a team that had high hopes of making it back to the Final Four for the first time since the 2011-12 season, it all came crashing down on its home court.
Draper led AVC, ranked fifth in the state, with 19 points and eight rebounds in his final game as a Marauder while AVC freshman point guard Ismail Ali had 13 points. Freshman Tajee Shaw had 12 points and eight boards.
With Cerritos up 77-75 with 11 seconds left, the Falcons missed a pair of free throws as Ali grabbed the rebound and bolted up the court.
After stumbling a bit, Ali found Tim Johnson in the corner but the freshman’s shot clanked off the iron and sent Cerritos into a frenzy.
"I got to the middle of the court and should have gone left," Ali said. "I did a crossover and kind of lost the ball and saw Tim in the corner.
"I had to give it to him late and it was off-balance. I just feel like it was my fault."
Johnson also felt devastated after the game.
"I got a look and I didn’t knock it down," Johnson said. "There was a lot of stuff going through my mind it was an OK look but I should have knocked it down. I’m disappointed in myself."
While Johnson’s final shot will stick out, the Marauders said their troubles began late in the first half.
The Marauders led 35-33 at the half despite a poor showing in the final few minutes.
After Johnson nailed a 3-pointer to put AVC up by 12 with five minutes left, Cerritos closed the half on a 13-3 run.
"We had a chance to step on them but we relaxed and let them come back," Ali said. "We just stopped playing defense and let the lead get to us."
That set the stage for a seesaw second half in which there were 10 lead changes and eight ties, with neither team trailing by more than eight.
With AVC down 64-56 with just over seven minutes left, the Marauders reeled of a 12-1 spurt that was capped by a 3-pointer from Ali with four minutes left.
But the Falcons, who advanced to the SoCal finals against Chaffey, scored the next six points and never trailed again.
"The whole time in the game I honestly thought we were going to come out with the win," Ali said. "I felt like we were in control but we just couldn’t pull it out at the end."
While the Falcons only outrebounded AVC 36-34, many of Cerritos’ boards led to second-chance points.
"It was the little things," said AVC sophomore center Zach Hollis, who finished with nine points and four rebounds. "There were a couple of loose ball and rebounds that we didn’t get and that all adds up.
"Teams aren’t driving a few hours up here to settle for a loss."
Instead, it was the Marauders whose dreams were dashed.