TAMPA — The Jesuit boys basketball team could be forgiven for looking past Lake Wales. The Highlanders entered the Class 6A region quarterfinal with a 13-12 record, while the Tigers had their sights on another squad — Sarasota Booker, which knocked them out in this same spot last season.
So when the Tigers fell behind 8-0, coach Neal Goldman had to call a timeout and get the team focused on the task at hand. It worked — barely.
Thierry Moliere's free throw with 2.7 seconds remaining broke a 46-all tie and lifted the Tigers to a 47-46 victory Thursday.
With the victory, the Tigers get their shot at revenge as they will take on Sarasota Booker on Tuesday. Moliere led the Tigers with 16 points. Nick Weir added 11.
"That was too close," said Jesuit's Jack Cooper, who had 10 points. "Last year we lost in the region quarterfinal so this was a big goal of ours. Now we're playing Booker."
The Tigers nearly didn't get a second shot at Booker. Lake Wales' size and transition game proved to be problematic early.
But an 8-0 run in the third quarter wiped out a 25-20 Lake Wales' halftime lead and helped Jesuit take a 36-32 lead into the fourth.
The Tigers pushed that lead to seven after a 3-pointer by Ryan Radke before Lake Wales answered.
A 10-2 run ending on a fast-break lay by Duante Armstead came Lake Wales a 42-41 lead with three minutes to play. Jesuit answered with a 5-1 run, and when Moliere hit two free throws with 33 seconds remaining, the Tigers had a 46-43 lead.
But Armstead hit a 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining to tie the score, setting up Moliere's drive to the basket where he was fouled and hit 1-of-2 free throws. Lake Wales could not get off a final shot before the clock expired sending the Tigers to the next round.
"It was a tough, hard-earned win," Goldman said. "I really loved the way our guys scrapped tonight. We made a lot of clutch plays down the stretch and I'm very happy with our defense only giving up 46 tonight."