The Tempe Prep men’s basketball team lost in the quarterfinals of the Division IV state tournament, marking the final game for a senior class that spearheaded the program’s most successful years.
Seeded as the 12th best team in the state tournament, Tempe Prep faced 21-seed Valley Union in its opening playoff game. While the Knights held an advantage for most of the contest, they did not reach a comfortable lead until the second half, where it grew to double-digits, eventually keying a 53-31 victory.
Valley Union’s tight zone defense created difficulties for TPA at first, but as a result of running at their opponents more in the second half, the Knights started to convert more shots. In order to cope with the change of pace, Valley Union defenders were forced to come out and guard Tempe Prep shooters more frequently, and thus played out of their usual defensive scheme. Having disrupted their opponents’ defensive plan, the Knights would take advantage and add 15 more points to their lead.
Senior point guard Luke Sandoval noted that although “there were too many turnovers,” the opening game against Valley Union “helped us get focused for our game against St. Gregory,” the team the Knights would face as they progressed into the second round.
The matchup against 5-seed St. Gregory posed some similarities to the previous game for TPA: in addition to encountering another zone defense, the Knights would also have to make several in-game adjustments due to unfamiliarity with the opposition, a challenge that often surfaces in the state playoffs that features a wide array of squads that might not have played before in the regular season.
Tempe Prep got off to a blazing start in the game, as shots fell easily to begin, leading to a 20-8 advantage by the end of the first-quarter. Though St. Gregory trimmed the lead to eight by halftime, and even got within two points in the third-quarter, TPA eventually sealed a 59-47 victory with a dominant final quarter of play.
Coach Lambros was particularly amazed at how balanced the scoring was in his team’s second round victory, as four different players reached double-digits and another had eight points. “[It] truly goes back to not having any one superstar on the team, but five, and those five playing together.” Coach Lambros also noted the Knights’ very efficient free throw shooting (14-17) during the game; what once was perceived as a liability and even the cause behind losses during the season was now a part of the game that Coach Lambros felt confident about.
But that was as far as the Knights would advance in the tournament, as a 58-36 quarterfinal defeat at the hands of Desert Christian concluded the 2013-14 season. The devastating loss could be best described as a tale of two halves: while Tempe Prep shot out to a 28-27 lead by halftime, it came out flat in the second half, getting outscored 31-8.
Senior Ryan Van Dusen believed that his team “started out the contest with plenty of energy but possibly too much energy. We were confident in our ability to play with our opponent, yet each player put too much pressure on themselves to make plays.”
Concerning his team’s performance in the second half, Coach Lambros said “it was if we were running in mud. It was not for lack of effort or desire or for lack of shooting, we just could not get anything to drop through the basket.”
Van Dusen also remarked that it simply felt like an off day for the team, and added that “our failure to adjust and face the fact that we were out of sync and had to adapt was the main cause of our defeat. Desert Christian did not do anything spectacular or especially well but they were a balanced team which easily took advantage of an unbalanced day for us as far as our emotions, playing style, and rhythm were out of sync.”
Although the Knights could not replicate their 2013 tournament success, Coach Lambros says he “could not be more proud of [his] team and how hard they played this season,” and feels that “all is not lost. Tempe Prep’s basketball program is on the rise. Our Froshmore and JV teams had great seasons and we have a great foundation laid for future years.”
*Published on March 24th.