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Smith, Artesia send Norwalk to another one-possession league loss


By Loren Kopff

Once again, the Norwalk boys basketball team saw its grasp of a Suburban League victory snatched away in the final minutes. This time, Artesia rallied from 11 points down in the final 2:54 to come away with a 43-41 victory, sending the Lancers to their fourth league loss.

Norwalk’s league season has been one that no one has seen in a very long time. All five of its games entering this week have been decided by one possession, as the Lancers fell to 7-13 overall and 1-4 in the circuit. All four losses in league have been by a combined nine points while the lone victory was by two points over Bellflower.

Artesia junior Dontae Smith, who did not start due to a violation of team rules, came off the bench and proved why he has been a starter all season long. Smith scored all 10 of his fourth quarter points as part of the 13-0 run that ended the game and finished with what was a career-high 21 points on seven of 16 shooting from the field and seven of 10 from the line. Smith also led the Pioneers with seven rebounds.

“It wasn’t major but it was something we’ve talked about before,” said Artesia head coach Ray Walker of Smith’s early game benching. “He loves to start and he loves to play and we love to have him. But we needed to send a little bit of a message and I’m sure it won’t happen again.”

Norwalk was also having its share of personnel problems as senior Rashaad Penny was on a recruiting trip to Fresno State University and senior Dante Foster was saddled with foul trouble throughout the game. Still, the Lancers stayed right with Artesia and led 17-13 at the half as senior Alex Vidana had eight points while Foster added another five points. In fact, the Lancers had erased a six-point deficit to outscore the hosts 10-3 in the second quarter.

“We figured if they weren’t going to shoot well, we would pack in the zone and try to be strong in there,” said Norwalk head coach Jim Webster. “We kind of started making some shots in the third quarter but we just panicked.”

“We didn’t shoot well and we didn’t play well offensively,” Walker said. “Defensively, I thought we were fine. When you hold them to 17 [points], that’s great. Norwalk is tough; obviously every league game is tough. They caused us not to play well on the offensive side.”

Foster picked up his third foul just 65 seconds into the second half but Norwalk still maintained its lead, which grew to 24-17 with 5:22 left in the third quarter. The Pioneers rallied all the way back to take a one-point lead late in the stanza. But the Lancers dominated the first part of the fourth quarter, going on a 15-3 run to lead 41-30. That’s when the tide abruptly changed.

Smith scored on an offensive rebound, then sank four straight free throws, the latter two after Foster had fouled out, and with 1:45 left to play, Norwalk was up 41-36.

Then with 1:05 remaining, Smith scored on a steal and with 16.5 seconds left, Smith connected on two more free throws to put Artesia in front 42-41.

Webster immediately called a timeout but a turnover on the in-bound play gave the Pioneers possession and Smith hit another free throw with 10.2 seconds left. Sophomore Keno Valdenor’s long desperation’s three-pointer clanked off the glass at the buzzer.

“Considering we were without Rashaad Penny and Dante probably played six minutes the whole game, the guys fought hard to get in position to win,” Webster said. “To panic at the end and blow it…we handed them ball. We couldn’t be strong enough to handle the ball.”

“We picked up the pace a little bit and we finally started making our free throws,” Walker said. “That put us in a hole early; we didn’t shoot the ball well early on. It was a nice come from behind win.”

Besides Smith, the rest of the Pioneers combined to go seven of 32 from the field and seven of 12 from the charity stripe. This past Wednesday night, the Pioneers had no problems with John Glenn in a 63-43 victory. Smith posted a career-high 22 points while junior Chris Pendley came off the bench to add a career-high 16 points as the Pioneers improved to 14-5 overall and 3-2 in league.

Artesia visits Mayfair tonight, then hosts Cerritos to begin the second round of league play. In addition, the Pioneers are ranked seventh in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III-A coach’s poll.

As for the Lancers, Vidana posted a team-high 13 points, pulled down seven rebounds and had four assists. But the one-possession setbacks are still haunting Webster and his squad. Norwalk has fallen to John Glenn 48-47, league-leading Mayfair 62-59 and Cerritos 61-58 in double overtime prior to the Artesia loss. Norwalk visits Bellflower on Wednesday to begin the second round of league play.

“It’s not going to help us get into the playoffs,” Webster said. “I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to reach our potential this year. Maybe we’re still going to be rebuilding and learning. Hopefully we’re learning off of these losses.”