Each step looked like it could have been his last of the night and the simplest movement registered a pained grimace on his face.
But Lowell senior forward Arthur Jones wasn’t about to let his team lose Friday night.
Despite a groin strain and a nasty contusion on his shooting hand, Jones sank four foul shots in the final minute to help his team survive an inspired effort from Mission in Lowell’s thrilling 72-69 overtime victory in the San Francisco Section championship game at Kezar Pavilion.
"I just tried to block out the pain for a minute," said Jones, who scored 12 points and added six rebounds in less than 20 minutes of playing time because of his various ailments. "Our team played too hard tonight to lose, so I just focused all my energy on making those free throws."
The Cardinals (28-4) fought off cramps, injuries and a coming-of-age performance from Mission’s fleet-footed guard tandem of Harry Howard and Demaree Hampton to capture their second consecutive city title.
In his second straight standout performance, Jordan Wong scored 30 points and hit six 3-pointers, and Travis Hom added 16 points and seven assists in limited time due to injuries for the Cardinals, who survived a last-second 3-point attempt by Howard to win in nail-biting fashion.
"I couldn’t ask for anything better than this," said Wong, who hit the decisive 3-pointer against Wallenberg in the city semifinals Wednesday. "My senior season, to go out as a champion two years in a row is like a dream."
Mission (15-12) and Lowell will advance to play in the NorCal Division I tournament, which begins Tuesday.
Mission, starting five underclassmen against the senior-laden Cardinals, came out tight in the first half, falling behind 22-11 in the first quarter, which ended on a sour note for Lowell as Jones took a frightening spill with under a minute to play.
The Bears took advantage of Jones’ absence, reeling off a 9-0 run to pull within 22-20, but Wong nailed a 3-pointer to quell that rally and Lowell rolled off that trey to head into the half up 36-22.
With Lowell leading 45-35 midway through the third quarter, Hampton (21 points, seven assists) and Howard (18 points) took over for Mission, combining to score 21 points in a 23-10 run that saw the Bears take their first lead of the game at 54-53 with 4:15 remaining in the game.
The two teams traded off clutch baskets during the final minutes, with Wong hitting two foul shots to put Lowell up 61-59 with 31 seconds and Hampton nailing two free throws with 22 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
Neither team generated much offense in the overtime, but Lowell surged ahead for good when Alex McNabb hit a 3-pointer to put the Cardinals up 68-63 with 2:22 left. Jones’ clutch shots and a tight defensive effort from the Cardinals over the final minutes sealed the win for the Lowell.
"I’m at a loss for words," Lowell coach Robert Ray said. "These seniors have stepped up every game for the last four years, but I’ve never seen them step up like they did tonight."
Mission was looking to pull of its third straight upset of the tournament, but could not pull it off against the big game-tested Cardinals.
"It hurts to lose, but I’m so proud of these guys," Mission coach Judson Steele said. "I can’t say enough about our effort tonight, but in the end, you have to take your hats off to Lowell, they’re the defending champs and they found a way to win tonight."
Lowell 72, Mission 69 (OT)