After turning a five-point halftime deficit into a 14-point fourth-quarter lead, the wheels came off the Lathrop wagon in a hurry Friday night.
The Spartans could not complete six consecutive possessions and ended up losing to visiting Mountain House 79-77 in Western Athletic Conference boys basketball action.
“We came out of the locker room on fire for the second half,” Spartans coach Craig Ward said. ‘We talked about what we were going to do and we did it. Then once we got that big lead we started turning it over left and right. We had been breaking their full-court press the whole game and then at the end we started trying to throw long passes.
“I called time out to try to get rid of some of the jitters, but when we came out of the time outs we kept throwing the ball away. We have to learn to finish a game, and that has been a problem for us all year.”
Trailing 39-24 at halftime, Lathrop (9-3 WAC, 17-7 overall) started the third period on an 11-0 run behind a pair of Daniel Whaley 3-pointers. After going scoreless in the first quarter, Whaley led the Spartans with 22 points along with three steals.
That lead grew to 64-54 at the end of the third quarter and to 68-54 on a Whaley layup early in the fourth quarter.
Then the trouble began for Lathrop. The Jaguars (11-1, 19-7) ended six consecutive Spartans possessions on turnovers behind five steals and an unforced turnover. Following an NBA-range 3-pointer by Whaley to tie the game at 77-77 with 40 seconds left, Lathrop was about to force a shot-clock violation when Nikko Rodriguez (25 points) fell to the floor in the corner, eliciting a whistle for a foul despite no apparent contact.
Rodriguez drained two free throws with 9 seconds remaining, but the Spartans were not done. They muscled up three shots underneath the basket in a sea of hands and elbows, but the only whistle came at the buzzer to end the game, leaving a stunned Lathrop team on the floor to watch Mountain House celebrate.
The Spartans were without Eddie Cotton (18 points, 20 rebounds, three blocks) down the stretch. Cotton – who was forced to leave the game in the second half to have abrasions on his hands bandaged – fouled out with 2:46 left in the fourth quarter.
“They are a physical team,” Cotton said. “This was a learning experience for us.
“I shouldn’t have fouled out. I had a couple where I reached over their back and I should have let it go.”
The intensity of the game did not surprise Jaguars coach Nolan Dixon.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight when we came in,” Dixon said. “It’s always hard to play on the road and Lathrop is a good team and we are just real, real fortunate to get away with the win.
“In the fourth quarter we called a timeout and the guys were complaining that they couldn’t do one thing or another, and I told them I was tired of hearing, `I can’t.’ I told them to find solutions and then we came out and handled business.”
Lathrop finishes up league play next week, traveling to Los Banos on Wednesday and hosting Johansen on Friday.
“We’re sitting around No. 14 for the playoffs,” Ward said. “This may drop us one or two and it may not.
“But this will probably help us in the playoffs, the fact that we had a game like this that we should have finished off and we didn’t. This feeling that they have right now they don’t ever want to have again. So I know that we are going to go into these next three games — the last two league games and the first playoff game — a little angry and a little snippy.”
Jaylen Bagby added 10 points, 12 rebounds and two steals for Lathrop.
Mountain House 69, Lathrop 51
Isaiah Baumgardner led the Spartans with 13 points with Christian Buestr and Harold Gary adding 11 points apiece.
Mountain House 42, Lathrop 41
Elijah McCullough paced the Spartans with 14 points.