Regents blows late lead to Delta Academy, falls in state championship game

Published 9:32 am Monday, February 21, 2022

“Just came up a little short at the end.”

Regents head coach Luke Buckner struggled to find the words to describe his team’s performance after their 37-34 loss to Delta Academy in the MAIS Class AA state championship.

“My guys played as hard as they could,” said a visibly emotional Buckner after the game. “It was a defensive battle and they fought, fought and fought… just came up a little short at the end.”

The Lions, who finished last in Region 1 before going on a Cinderella run in the playoffs, played suffocating defense all night in a slugfest of a contest. Neither team was able to get into an offensive rhythm as the defenses locked in and prevented easy looks throughout the game.

Regents played one of their best defensive games of the season, switching to a hybrid 1-3-1 zone after playing primarily man-to-man defense throughout the season.

“Man they just hustled. We play a man-to-man, their coach knows I play a man-to-man, so I tried to come out with something a little bit different so we came out in that zone,” said Buckner. “It was working. It worked really well, kind of rattled them a little bit, and we stayed in that zone and they did well with it.”

The zone gave Delta Academy all kinds of problems, forcing errant passes and generating plenty of turnovers while preventing open looks at the rim. Regents forced the Raiders to shoot over the top of the zone all night, which proved effective until the Raiders caught fire from the arc in the closing minutes of the game.

The Lions led by three with just over a minute remaining when Delta Academy hit their third triple of the fourth quarter to tie it at 34-34.

Regents got the ball back with just under 50 seconds on the clock, and nearly re-took the lead when junior Jayden Maten drove baseline and got by the initial defender, but the 6-foot-2 combo guard was unable to convert a tough layup over the help defender.

Delta Academy secured the rebound and slowly walked the ball up-court, but struggled to find a shot as the seconds ticked off the clock. They finally got a good look as the swung the ball around the perimeter, finding an open Gabriel Moore who banked in the go-ahead three-pointer with 2.4 seconds remaining.

After Buckner called timeout, the Lions had an opportunity to launch a prayer at the buzzer, but were unable to even get a shot off as time expired with the ball in their hands.

Buckner took responsibility for the loss, saying he did not put his team in a good position to win.

“In my opinion, a close game it’s on the coach. The guys fought and kept it close the entire time, it’s my responsibility to find a way to help them win, and we should’ve gone to a man-to-man [on the last possession],” he said.

Buckner also praised the Raiders’ defensive efforts, citing head coach Craig Dailey’s lengthy experience as one of the best defensive minds in MAIS basketball.

“Coach Dailey, he’s been at this a long time, he runs a really good man-to-man defense, he’s really good at applying pressure, closing in the lane and not letting you drive. We got some good looks, they just didn’t fall. We missed some huge layups tonight,” Buckner said.

Nate Paul was the only Regents player who got into double figures on the night, posting 12 points to go along with four rebounds and two blocks.

The Lions’ star guard pairing of Maten and Jalen Petty was held in check all night, scoring a combined 13 points and only managing three assists against the Raiders’ stout defense.