When Bishop Gorman’s Johnathan Loyd stepped to the foul line with 1.8 seconds left in a tie game, there was more than just a game at stake.
The junior guard was shooting for a state championship and family bragging rights.
Loyd achieved both, making the first of two free throws to give the Gaels their only lead and a 56-55 victory over Palo Verde for the Class 4A boys state title Friday night at the Orleans Arena.
“I knew he had it,” senior Kylel Coleman said. “John got to the line a lot this season, and I knew he was going to knock them down. He knocked the first one down, and that’s all we needed.”
Loyd became the first of the three talented Loyd brothers to win a state championship. Neither Mike, who starred at Palo Verde, nor Kevin, a former Gorman standout, played on a title winner.
“I’m the only one,” Johnathan said. “I get to rub it in a little bit to my brothers.”
For most of the game it looked like Palo Verde (24-6) would win the bragging rights, especially because Gorman (28-5) couldn’t get the lead.
The Panthers had the ball with the game tied at 55 and called timeout with 16.4 seconds left to draw up a final play. D.J. Stennis drove to the basket, but Gorman’s Alex Turner blocked his shot with five seconds left.
Loyd secured the loose ball and was fouled near the Palo Verde free-throw line. He hit the first foul shot, then missed the second intentionally, and Palo Verde’s desperation full-court heave wasn’t close.
“Alex Turner made a great block, a great defensive play,” Palo Verde coach Jermone Riley said. “If he doesn’t make that play, if he’s not there, then we probably score and we’re the ones celebrating.”
Palo Verde was clearly in control before Gorman seniors Czar Robotham and Coleman made the biggest shots. With Palo Verde leading 53-47, Robotham’s 3-pointer cut the lead to three with 2:20 to go.
The Gaels quickly forced a turnover, and Coleman penetrated and dished to Taylor Spencer for a basket that cut the gap to 53-52.
After a basket by Palo Verde’s Bryce Cotton, Coleman nailed a long, tying 3-pointer with 1:12 to play.
Coleman finished with a game-high 19 points.
“He made some big shots,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “What heart he showed.”
Coleman said the shots were just part of being a leader.
“They were coming to us (seniors) and we said we were going to step up and knock down shots, and that’s what we did,” he said.
Coleman cited defense for keeping the Gaels in the game. They forced 20 turnovers, six in the fourth quarter.
“Every day in practice, we work on defense first,” he said. “Grinding it on 'D,’ getting stops and getting rebounds.”
Rice said: “We went all out for the last three minutes. I wish we could have gotten our guys to play like that the whole game.”
Liloa Nobriga had 16 points and seven rebounds to carry Palo Verde, which twice led by 10 in the fourth quarter, both times following rebound buckets by Nobriga.
“We’re so excited to win the game, but (Palo Verde) definitely did not deserve to lose like that,” Rice said. “Somehow we clawed back.”
Riley said: “No excuses. Our guys battled. In my eyes, they’re champions.”