ONTARIO, Calif. — Santa Monica’s Jordan Mathews scored the game’s first points, and more importantly, the game’s last.
The senior, headed to play collegiate ball at Cal, hit a 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds remaining to give the Vikings a win in the Southern California regional final of the CIF-State Boys Basketball Division I Championship over Loyola at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif. on Saturday.
The victory sends Samohi to the state final against Pleasant Grove on Friday in Sacramento.
It’s the second appearance for Samohi in the state final, but the first since 1928.
Santa Monica was in firm control of the game at half-time, up 26-16, but Loyola was far from done.
The Cubs outscored Samohi 34-27 in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to stop Mathews and company as they continue their historic postseason run.
“I’m proud of our guys, from start to finish,” Samohi head coach James Hecht said. “This is a game of momentum changes. I knew Loyola was going to go on a run. But, our kids showed a lot of composure. They didn’t panic, they buckled down.”
For Mathews, he wasn’t going to let Loyola walk away winners.
After losing to Loyola twice during the regular season — and once during a scrimmage — it seemed that the Cubs had Samohi’s number.
That would have been the case if not for Mathews, who led the Vikings with a 24-point per game average this season and has proven to be the team’s undisputed leader.
“I honestly have been thinking about that all week, what if it comes down to that,” Mathews said. “We’re not going to lose to them three times, not three times.”
Hecht couldn’t have agreed more.
“Great players make great shots,” Hecht said of Mathews’ last-second heroics.
Mathews may have been the player of the game with 19 points, but it was fellow senior Troy Maloney and his 17 points that propelled Samohi to its early lead.
Maloney finished the day five of seven from beyond the 3-point line as he was instrumental to Samohi’s early dominance.
Coming from behind didn’t seem to phase Loyola, who were led by senior center Thomas Welsh. Welsh helped mount the Cubs’ come back, going seven for seven in the second half en route to 17 points on the game.
Despite spearheading the comeback for Loyola, he was not involved in a crucial scenario when the game was knotted at 50 a piece.
Instead of going inside to the 7-foot Welsh, Loyola settled for an errant 3-point attempt by Mtume Armour with 29 seconds remaining that set the stage for Mathews’ dagger.
“We missed it by a few inches and Jordan knocked his down, that’s how life goes and how basketball goes some times, “ said Loyola head coach Jamal Adams.
Samohi’s Erron Vaughn took the in-bounds pass and calmly dribbled the ball, allowing time to dwindle down to the final seconds.
With four ticks on the clock, Vaughn gave the ball to Mathews, who dribbled around a screen and found himself open behind the NBA 3-point line as he squared up and drained the most important basket of his young career.
The dramatic victory sets up a state final with Northern California champion Pleasant Grove on Friday at Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena.