La Joya champs

La Joya Community boys' basketball poses with the Horizon Holiday Hoops Invitational Tournament championship trophy on Dec. 21.

Nahshon Harper, a senior guard for La Joya Community boys’ basketball, hit a layup as time expired, giving the Lobos a 75-74 victory over St. Mary’s and a championship in the Horizon Holiday Hoops Invitational Tournament Final on Saturday night.

Harper received the inbounds pass in the backcourt off La Joya’s final timeout with 6.2 seconds to play. He beat several defenders off the dribble, lept into the air and finished with his right hand as the clock ran out.

“I knew it was going to go in. I had the same shot freshman year. They all came to double-team mean and I just blew by them. I work on that shot almost every day in practice,” Harper said.

“Coach said, ‘Give the ball to 20 and get out of the way.’”

Though the Lobos came away victorious, the entire game was a back-and-forth battle.

The Lobos took a ten-point lead early in the first quarter, behind 12 points from Harper and excellent team defense.

One of the most talented teams in 4A, St. Mary’s had run through the tournament with dominant wins over Scottsdale Christian and New Trier (IL) in the first two rounds and had scored at a high clip all season.

La Joya was at a distinct size disadvantage the whole night. But, coach Roger Lefebvre said the heart and willingness to battle near the post by his whole roster showed on the defensive end.

“We’re all the same size down there, so who cares if we switch? It was all about effort and positioning, because we wanted to keep their center out of the paint,” Lefebvre said.

But, the Knights stormed back to tie the game in the second quarter, and from there neither team could pull very far ahead.

Both squads traded leads throughout the third and fourth quarter, and the margin never passed more than a few points either way after halftime. There were three lead changes in the final minute alone, including the buzzer-beater.

Harper believes the close win in a tournament setting is a step in the right direction for La Joya.

“It gives us confidence,” he said.

Lefebvre agreed, but does not want to have his players get too cocky just yet.

“It’s great, and we’re going to enjoy this and take a little bit of time off for the holidays,” Lefebvre said.

“But then we’ll be right back in the gym with two-a-days and getting ready for the rest of the season.”

The Lobos (10-3) are set to travel to Surprise on Jan. 7 to take on Shadow Ridge in their next regular season home game.