The Peoria High boys basketball team received the 4A runner-up trophy after a tough, overtime loss in the 4A title game Saturday, Feb. 29. (Peoria Times photo by Eric Newman)

The Peoria Panthers fell just short of a state title Saturday, Feb. 29, losing 54-48 in overtime to Tucson Salpointe Catholic in the 2020 AIA Boys’ Basketball 4A State Championship final.

The Panthers and Lancers – No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the seedings – battled neck-and-neck for four quarters, including three buzzer-beating jumpers in the first three periods by Salpointe senior Evan Nelson, Peoria senior Isaac Monroe and Peoria junior Kevin Kogbara.

Peoria took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter but scored just eight points in as many minutes.

“We were a little stagnant on the offensive end, and sometimes we went away from our team ball,” said Peoria coach Patrick Battillo.

Salpointe took a late lead, but with 30 seconds remaining, it was Peoria’s ball. The Panthers dribbled up the floor slowly and missed a shot to tie. Neither team could secure the rebound for several seconds until Kogbara came out of the scrum with the ball and hit a layup with 3.6 seconds left for a 48-48 tie and overtime.

Peoria had a few open shots in the overtime period but failed to score. Salpointe needed just six points to secure the victory, hitting free throws the Panthers gave them in desperation to stop the clock.

The loss is a bittersweet end to the season for the Panthers, who finish 26-4. The Panthers had not lost a non-conference tournament game against Ironwood – which was set to play in the 5A championship game on March 2 – in December.

Battillo took over as coach on an interim basis after Will Roberts took a leave from the program for personal reasons. The Panthers were still the No. 1 seed in the tournament and exceeded expectations to reach the title game, with an insurgence of young talent in the preseason added to the veteran leaders.

“Being able to come to this arena and make it to his game, I wish we could have closed it out for them, but I’m very proud of their efforts this year,” Battillo said.

The Panthers will graduate several talented seniors at the conclusion of the school year, including Monroe, who led the team with nearly 18 points per game this season, and starter Deandre Petty. However, they will still have other skilled players on the roster, including freshman Andrew Camacho and Kogbara, who scored 14 and 12 points respectively in the final.

Battillo believes Peoria, with its talent and the state title game experience now under its belt, is in a good spot to make another run at the championship in 2021.

“We’ll be right back at it for next year.”