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Joyce Endee

Lakers can't hang on late, fall to White Mountains

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Hayden Jurius goes up for two of his game-high 23 points, but host Inter-Lakes fell to White Mountains, 52-47, on Feb. 2. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
February 06, 2012
MEREDITH – It's a little too early to start talking about must-wins, but the Inter-Lakes High School boys' basketball team faced a huge late regular season game against White Mountains Regional High School on Feb. 2.

Both teams entered the game at 3-8 overall, tied for the 18th spot in the Division III standings. With the play-in game format altered a bit this winter, only the top 20 teams are guaranteed slots with a chance to play their way into the preliminary round. The Lakers will now have some work left to do to find themselves playing in the postseason, as the visiting Spartans pulled out a 52-47 win in a tightly contest game. The two teams will meet again in the regular season finale on Feb. 22 in Whitefield.

"We were fighting for a good path (in the playoffs) all season long, now we're just fighting to get in," explained I-L coach Mike Rathgeber.

Just two nights after an 85-29 loss to D-III powerhouse Berlin on the road, I-L (3-9 entering this week) came out of the gates hot against White Mountains. Mitch Jurius scored the game's first points before Hayden Jurius rattled off five straight. Bryan Johnson's putback with 5:56 left gave the Lakers a commanding 9-0 lead.

But the Spartans had an answer, and they cut it to 9-8 when Joe Villanueva converted a layup with 3:48 left.

I-L led 16-12 after one quarter, and the back and forth flow of the game took over from there. It was evenly matched throughout, as neither team took bigger than a five points lead after the first quarter. Back-to-back hoops from Sean Mahoney and Hayden Jurius gave the Lakers a lead late in the first half, and I-L took a 24-23 advantage into intermission.

White Mountains grabbed its first lead of the night with 5:08 left in the third, as Villanueva scored to make it 27-26. That third frame featured four lead changes and three ties, as mini-runs on both sides eventually saw the visitors grab a 39-36 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

"Our defense for the most part is there, was there tonight…our rebounding for the most part is there as well," admitted Rathgeber of his team's zone that caused problems for the Spartans. "Our offense is just too sporadic. It goes away when we need it to be there."

The Lakers started the fourth quarter the way it opened the game, as Hayden Jurius sank a pair of free throws to get his team within 39-38, and Johnson followed with another three-pointer to put I-L up 41-39 with 7:13 left in regulation.

But the Spartans again had an answer offensively, and the visitors scored the next six points to jump ahead 45-41 with 3:56 to play.

Johnson drained another three with 3:38 left to get the Lakers within 45-44, and Hayden Jurius' bucket with 2:10 left kept I-L within one again at 47-46. But late game execution failed the Lakers once again, as the squad committed turnovers on consecutive possessions down by three points in the final minute, and White Mountains converted on the other end to hold on for the 52-47 win.

"It's the turnovers and missed layups, missed free throws…and that's everything that we work on in practice to nausea," said Rathgeber of his team's main struggles. "We work on those things day after day after day. We just aren't converting them in games."

Hayden Jurius led the Lakers with 23 points, as the big man was able to get to the basket almost at will during stretches. I-L held a distinct advantage in the paint, but the Lakers weren't able to consistently get the ball into the post to make that advantage really pay off.

"We talked about it pregame, at halftime, during every timeout…we have to play the game inside," said Rathgeber. "And we just didn't do it enough. It was there, we just didn't take advantage nearly enough."

Johnson was also in double figures for the Lakers with 13 points, including three three-pointers. Mitch Jurius added nine in the loss, eight of those coming in the first half.

The White Mountains trio of Villanueva, Riley Hartshorn and Mason Cliché combined for 43 of the team's 52 points.

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