With one second left on the clock and the Orange Coast College men’s basketball team down by two, sophomore guard Malik Skillern caught the inbound pass and shot the ball. The fans inside the Basil H. Peterson Gym groaned as the ball circled the basket and rolled out as time expired to hand OCC its seventh consecutive loss as the Pirates fell to the Irvine Valley College Lasers 83-81 on Friday.
The matchup between Orange Empire Conference rivals was the second and final time the Pirates and Lasers will meet on the hardwood this season, with the Pirates winning a late game thriller between the two in early January — the only conference win for the 3-21 Orange Coast Pirates halfway through conference play.
IVC had the hot hand early, opening the game on an 8-0 scoring run until sophomore guard Leonard Stallings produced crucial plays on offense and defense, including a thunderous 3-point jump shot to completely erase the eight-point deficit.
Stallings lit up the box score for the Pirates with 24 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals, and was accompanied by fellow sophomore guard Kekai Smith with 21 points. Smith shot 8-10 from the field, and 3-5 from beyond the 3-point line. Freshman guard Jonathan Ilelji led Coast with 25 points, converting 15-17 from the charity stripe.
Even though the Pirate offense came to life in the match, the defense just couldn’t find a stop for the Lasers offense, allowing 11 3-point shots.
“We didn’t execute on defense like we have all year and we can’t give up that many points,” head coach Steve Spencer said. “It just comes down to defense and we weren’t defending like we need to.”
Entering the second half, the Pirates clung to a four-point lead, but quickly saw that vanish as IVC had a hot hand and the Lasers took its largest lead of the night, 60-49.
Although trailing by 11, Coast was not discouraged and rallied right back, with Stallings hitting two clutch free throws to give OCC a one-point lead.
“We had some great stretches where we played with heart and intensity,” Spencer said. “But their effort and intensity was better.”
OCC did well with crowding the paint, but couldn’t grab the offensive rebound, and the team was outrebounded 34-20.
Along with the poor display on defense, the Pirates made 12 turnovers and committed 24 personal fouls, which proved to be crucial down the stretch, because the team couldn’t capitalize on IVC’s staggering 22 turnovers and 24 fouls as well.
The Pirates found success on pressuring the Lasers in the backcourt, double-teaming IVC immediately on the inbound pass, which contributed to the 22 turnovers. The Pirates scored 36 points off turnovers, but the 13 points they allowed from its own turnovers made the difference in the game.
“At half-court we have to keep the ball in front of us, and we didn’t,” Spencer said. “We had some bad turnovers offensively at bad times.”
A dominant theme for both teams was untimely turnovers. With one second on the clock, Irvine was set to inbound a pass, and in attempt to clear half-court, the football-like toss sent the basketball into the roof, which set up one final shot for the Pirates to win the game in front of the home crowd, which would have been the first win of the season in the Basil H. Peterson Gym.
For the last place Pirates, the focus will shift to the final four games of the season, including second place Saddleback College.
“We have two weeks left and have to play for pride,” Spencer said. “We just have to keep battling and competing and getting better.”
The Pirates will play in the Basil H. Peterson Gym three more times this season, and will square off with Santa Ana College tonight at home at 5 p.m.