LOWELL -- Luis Lora had the moment of his basketball life on Friday night.
Lora, a Lowell High senior guard who earns his minutes off the bench as a high-energy defensive specialist, was seemingly not a prime candidate to hit a game-winning shot. But his high-energy came in handy when the game was on the line.
Lora's rebound and putback, which barely -- and I mean barely -- beat the game's final buzzer, gave Lowell a thrilling 48-46 victory over Westford Academy in the opening round of the 36th annual IAABO/Spinners Greater Lowell Holiday Tournament at Lowell Catholic's Keith Gymnasium.
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Lowell's final possession started under its own hoop with 8.5 seconds remaining. The Red Raiders went down the court and senior Victor Santos attempted a deep 3-pointer that missed off the backboard. Lora crashed the boards from the weak side, caught the ball and shot it in mid-air, banking it in. Seconds later the officials confirmed that it was good.
"I thought it was perfect. I saw my teammate shoot the ball, and I had to stay on the glass," said Lora, who finished with six points and four rebounds. "I tried to put it as quick as possible in the hoop.
"It's my first winning shot ever. It's the best feeling."
On a day that featured four games at the Mickey Sullivan Court, this nightcap was easily the best of the bunch. It was a seesaw battle that was headed to a crazy finish from the opening tip.
"To be honest, it (Lora's putback) was close. I don't really know (if it beat the buzzer). But I'm happy with the outcome," said Lowell head coach Bob Michalczyk, whose team improved to 1-1. "It came down to the last possible 10th-of-a-second. It's the best game of the season so far, of course we've only played two. It was a great crowd, in a pretty small building, so it kind of magnified the moment."
The teams traded bucket after bucket in the final 2:30. Lowell senior forward Dewayne Thomas had eight points in that span, including a baseline jumper that gave the Red Raiders a 46-44 lead with 25 seconds left.
The 6-foot-3 Thomas was the brightest of stars, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds and a one-handed dunk on a breakaway. He also did an admirable job defending Westford's 6-foot-6 junior center Eric McCord (eight points, 14 rebounds).
"It was a tough battle. He did his job, and I did mine. It's all about effort," said Thomas. "This game had a lot of intensity, but we showed that we can handle it. We were good as a team when it really counted."
Not to be outdone, Westford senior forward Luke Moran had answers for Thomas. He hit a jumper to tie the game 44-44 with 37 seconds left, and another to tie it 46-46 with 8.5 seconds left. Moran led the Grey Ghosts with 13 points and five rebounds.
Lowell led 23-19 at the half, sparked by Thomas and the playmaking of sophomore guard Sean Bryant (seven points, six rebounds, six assists). But Westford stormed back in the third quarter, winning the frame 17-9 to take a 36-32 lead into the fourth.
The Grey Ghosts erupted for a 10-3 run before Bryant hit a layup just before the end of the third. That seemed to propel the Red Raiders into the final quarter.
"It's a great win for us," said Lora. "We're going to try to push through this tournament."
Lowell will play Acton-Boxboro in a semifinal on Sunday (6:15 p.m.) at Lowell Catholic, followed by Pelham and Chelmsford at 8 p.m. in the other semi.
The size of Acton-Boxboro, namely 6-foot-7 senior center Alex Boyd, wore down Haverhill in the second half.
Boyd finished with 16 points and four blocks to power A-B (3-0). Junior guards Michael Mundowa and Reid Larsen added 12 points each for the Colonials.
The game was tied 21-21 at the half. Acton-Boxboro fell behind 25-23 before it went on a 14-0 run to seize control.
Sophomore forward Keith Brown scored 22 points and junior forward Ryan Cloutier scored 21 as Pelham (3-1) moved on to the semifinals.
Senior guard Jake Vaiknoras added 17 points for Pelham, which pulled away in the fourth quarter after leading 54-48 through three.
Senior guard Aaron Barbosa's 20 points led Dracut, which will play a consolation game against Londonderry on Saturday at 2:45. Freshman guard Michael Odiana added 12 points for the Middies.
Senior forward Jackson Gamer's 15 points and senior guard Voshon Holmes' 14 points led a balanced Chelmsford attack as the Lions moved on to the semifinals.
Senior forward Brad Hausler added 12 points for Chelmsford (1-1). Junior guard Jack Campsmith scored 9 points.
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