LA VERNE -- Lutheran basketball coach Eric Cooper pleaded so much that his voice turned raspy. He spent much of Saturday night's 79-65 loss to Los Angeles Price in the officials' ears, asking for fouls, for fairness, for anything.
"We're at home, man," Cooper said to one official. "That's not right. ... Where's the foul? ... Is it because (Price coach Michael Lynch) is wearing a suit and I'm not? ... Every single call; in our own building!"
Things just didn't go well for the hosts of the inaugural California Elite Showcase at the University of La Verne. Price -- like Cooper indicated time after time -- held an advantage at the free-throw line, attempting 26 to Lutheran's 17. But the game wasn't won at the line; it was won in transition. St. John's-bound forward Norvel Pelle had 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists and a handful of dunks to pace the Knights (15-5). Colorado-bound Askia Booker added 16 points and seven assists.
In reality, Cooper could have been venting about the Trojans' difficulties. Lutheran, last year's Division V state champion, missed another opportunity to make a statement.
"As coaches we understand that's a part of it," Lynch said of Cooper's frustrations. "Cooper was trying to have the referees see it his way. I'd do the same thing."
Lynch didn't have to.
Price won its seventh straight after dropping three in a row at the Oaks Christian Holiday Invitational in late December. The Knights scored 21 points off 20 turnovers -- a rate as efficient as the Booker-to-Pelle connection that worked time after time.
"They're starting to know each other," Lynch said. "We weren't playing good basketball for the first 14 games. We were trying to get that chemistry going. Now they understand when (Pelle) is back there under the basket, just throw it up there. He'll go catch it."
Lutheran (11-4) couldn't slow down and when it did, it struggled to crack the Knights' zone defense. A five-point deficit at halftime quickly turned into the a big, big hole. Loyola Marymount-bound guard Bruce English did his best to keep the Trojans in it, scoring a team-high 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Top forward prospect Grant Jerrett, a junior who has committed to play at Arizona, had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
"The season started kind of shaky, kind of rough," Pelle said. "We finally got it together and fit the puzzle in right."