All that stood in the way of the Palisades High boys basketball team and the semifinals of the CIF Division I state playoffs was 4.2 seconds and one free throw. But the Dolphins’ historic postseason simply wasn’t meant to go on.
Santa Monica junior forward Chris Smith sank the second of two foul shots on the last scoring play of regulation to send the game to overtime, where PaliHi ran out of steam offensively and scored just a single point, eventually falling 76-63 to end a memorable game and an inspired season.
“It was a great environment,” Pali head coach James Paleno said. “Of course, being 4.7 miles away from each other, a lot of these kids play on the same travel teams. I think everyone got their money’s worth.
“But we have a lot of seniors and the kids are sad. It’s sometimes harder when you’re that close and kind of easier when you get blown out … We really wanted to move on and play next week.”
For much of the contest, it appeared as though the Dolphins would do exactly that. Paced by senior wing Ammar Rehman’s 22 points, Pali took a 54-47 lead on senior captain Tyler Hildreth’s bucket with just over six minutes to play.
Then Vikings senior guard Jordan Mathews, who finished with a game high 41 points, scored eight points in under a minute, putting Pali behind 59-54.
But the Dolphins refused to quit. With 3:06 left, senior Dakota Chambers ended Mathews’ run with a three-point play to cut the deficit to 59-57. The stingy Pali defense held Samo scoreless for the next two minutes, while Rehman added a step back jumper and senior guard Jalen Wilson nailed a floater to give the Dolphins a 62-59 lead with 59 seconds remaining. Then, a putback from Vikings guard Trevis Jackson made it 62-61 with less than 30 seconds left.
That set the stage for the frantic finale.
After Pali guard Ryan Ford missed a free throw, Mathews collected the rebound and raced the length of the court before unexpectedly passing to Smith, who was fouled under the basket by Dakota Chambers. The Vikings’ 6-foot-5 forward, who finished with 16 points, nervously clanked his first shot, only to calmly nail the second.
Thanks to Smith’s heroics, SamoHi advanced to the State semis, where they faced Mission Hills on Tuesday (after the Post went to press). The CIF finals are on March 22 in Sacramento.
Despite the disappointing loss, one important silver lining wasn’t lost on Paleno:
“None of our boys’ teams had ever won a state playoff game,” he said. “The win Wednesday at Mission Viejo was kind of history in the making.”
In that 72-70 win, PaliHi was golden from beyond the arc, knocking down 14 three-pointers, including eight in the first half. Mission Viejo nearly rallied from a large deficit to pull out the victory, but an errant inbounds pass with 1.2 seconds left allowed Pali to escape.
Junior guard Louis Kurihara led the team with 21 points, followed by Rehman with 16.
The Dolphins graduate eight seniors from this year’s squad: Rehman, Hildreth, Wilson, Ford, Dakota and Colton Chambers, Jalen Ewell and Jamal Rodriguez.