PRESCOTT, Ariz. - The Grand Canyon Phantoms' season came to an end Saturday. The boys' varsity basketball team's loss to the Tempe Prep Knights 54-40 in Prescott on Feb. 16 ended the Phantoms' hopes to advance to the Elite Eight of the division IV state tournament.
Grand Canyon's final loss of the year comes after a very successful regular season for the Phantoms that was capped off with a sectional tournament championship and an 18-4 overall record in Arizona power point games.
Despite a double-digit final score, the state tournament game between the Phantoms and Knights was actually quite close for three quarters of play. Grand Canyon even had a one-point lead at halftime, up 21-20 in a low scoring first half.
But the bigger and more physical Tempe Prep squad bullied their way to an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter, from which the Phantoms just could not come back.
"We were pretty well scouted for them [Tempe Prep] and I knew what they were going to try and do but we just didn't handle it very well," Grand Canyon head basketball coach David Beery said. "They were real physical and real big. We really tried to push their guys around but never could match their level of physicality."
Beery went on to say his team was unable to run their offense efficiently at all against Tempe Prep's physical half-court man-to-man defense. Even Grand Canyon's 6-5 junior forward Joey Bankston had a tough time scoring against the large, wide and tall defense of the Knights.
The officials called a loose game, letting the players play it out and decide it on the court. The Phantoms' players never seemed to adjust to the way the game was being called and didn't match what the Tempe Prep players were doing to them.
When Tempe Prep started to build a lead in the fourth quarter, Grand Canyon had to take some chances on defense to try and get back in the game. The Phantoms put on the full-court press, attempted to trap the ball handlers, tried jumping in the passing lanes, and eventually started reaching in.
"They [Tempe Prep] had the momentum, they scored probably 10-15 points in the last couple minutes," said Beery. "We had to take some risks and it didn't work out for us. It was a pretty defensive game for three quarters."
Eventually it came down to fouling. Grand Canyon just needed to extend the game and hope to make some shots while Tempe Prep missed some free throws. Tempe Prep did not, and the Knights held on for the win to advance to the Elite Eight.
The Phantoms did not shoot well from beyond the arc either, only making one three-pointer all game.
"Some of that's depth perception in a bigger arena, but a lot of it too was they played really good defense on us," Beery said. "They got out on our shooters and when we put it on the floor they were physical with us all the way to the basket."
Beery described the matchup as a grind-it-out game, and Tempe Prep simply grinded it out. The Phantoms head coach said even though his team came up short, junior Ethan Berry and 6-4 sophomore forward Tyler Jones played tough and proved they will be valuable assets on next year's squad.
Berry was one player who matched Tempe Prep's intensity on the court and Jones played what his head coach felt was his best defensive game of the year.
"We had to fight for position on the court, and what it came down to is Tempe Prep won more battles," said Beery. "They worked harder for position and were stronger than us."
Beery said it's tough to make his players feel positive after a loss like this because they expected to go further, but he told them to look at their course of work the entire year. He said the Phantoms improved a great deal from the beginning of the season and showed a lot of toughness all year long.
In addition, this is the first time Grand Canyon High School has won a sectional championship in more 40 years.
"They [Phantoms] accomplished a lot this year," Beery said. "Obviously they're down after that game, but you don't want them to hang their heads. We had a fun season with a fun group of kids. They did what we asked them to do in games, and it didn't work out the last game, but overall starting from last summer we really built something special."
The Phantoms are losing three seniors this year, two of which are starters. Starting guards Loren Talas and Luke Streit, as well as forward Ricardo McCrary, will be hanging up their Grand Canyon jerseys at the end of the school year.
Junior point guard Justin Jarrell will return next year and Beery hopes they will be able to develop some younger players to fill the other guard spots. Bankston and Berry also return for their senior seasons next year.