Despite a 77-55 loss to Antelope in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship game, the Lodi Flames still have plenty of positives to take into the NorCal playoffs this week.
Lodi (23-7) received the No. 6 seed and will return to the friendly confines of The Inferno to host No. 11 Las Lomas (20-10) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the opening round of the tournament.
The Flames have to feel good about themselves coming off two thrilling upsets in the section playoffs against Sacramento and McNair before losing to a Titans squad which just might be the best team in the section regardless of the division.
Lodi head coach Dave Nutting said there was a reason Antelope has a 30-1 record this season and it showed in the physical differences between the two teams when the starting lineups were introduced at Power Balance Pavilion.
Not only were the Titans taller and longer than the Flames, most of the Antelope players looked like they had just stepped out of a P90X strength class. Once the game started, the Titans’ speed and athleticism became clear. Time after time, Antelope executed its back-door cutting offense for layups to perfection.
“It was the way Antelope was scoring so easy on those baskets inside,” Nutting said. “It became a psychological thing that got into our heads a little bit.”
But the biggest physical presence Antelope had was on the boards where the Titans outrebounded the Flames, 43-27. It certainly was not for the lack of effort by Lodi, which battled hard but just could not match the jumping ability of the Antelope front court.
But most importantly, the biggest impression the Flames took away from this game was learning how an elite team like Antelope plays at another level. And with Las Lomas coming up on Wednesday, the Flames will need to be quick studies when watching the game tape. Oftentimes, it’s the little things that make a difference.
It’s forcing turnovers to get easy baskets in transition. It’s cutting off penetration into the lanes and boxing out on rebounds. It’s helping out a teammate on the defensive backside and drawing charges. It’s all fundamental basketball and something Lodi can control and correct.
The Flames have a well-deserved reputation as a team that can shoot the lights out from anywhere. But even great shooters have off nights against aggressive defenses like Antelope’s. Those are the times when you have to make your defense work for you, too.
Another positive for Lodi was the addition of 6-4 freshman Dante Durham from the junior varsity team for the playoffs. He looked poised and mature beyond his years playing against Antelope.
Durham was not intimidated by the Titans’ imposing front line and did not back down, making a pair of nifty moves to score baskets on his only two shots of the game while leading the Flames with five rebounds. That’s impressive for a freshman playing in a section championship game.
As the game wore on against Antelope, the look of early frustration on the Lodi players faces were replaced by another expression, that of a family pulling together with determination and vowing not to make the same mistakes in the next contest.
There was no hanging of the heads by the Flames, and there shouldn’t be. This team oozes talent and coming back to The Inferno packed with Flame Fanatics could do wonders for Lodi’s confidence and possibly trigger another playoff run.
And if it does, the Flames will have the Antelope loss to thank for that.
Contact reporter Richard Banas II at email@example.com.