National Hoopfest: Tampa Catholic gets a needed test from West Oaks
TAMPA – Kevin Knox returned to Tampa Catholic for his senior season to try to win a state title, something that has eluded him throughout his career.
To get back to the state tournament – and win it – the Crusaders needed to play games like Friday’s against nationally-ranked Orlando West Oaks in the National Hoopfest at Berkeley Prep.
Tampa Catholic did not get the result it wanted, losing 83-74. But the Crusaders (14-4) competed against quality competition, something that can pay dividends net month when the team tries to make another deep playoff run.
“I think we stayed with them,” Tampa Catholic coach Don Dziagwa said. “I don’t know what more I can expect. They’re better than a lot of teams we’re going to face. We have to learn to do the little things and the fundamentals in order to pull through.”
Last year, the Crusaders played in the same tournament, losing to Victory Rock and Oldsmar Christian. Playing that caliber of competition helped Tampa Catholic prevail against West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy in the region final to advance to the state semifinals.
“I have enough W’s on my record to just play somebody else this weekend and pick up another victory,” Dziagwa said. “We want to play the best.”
Knox, who was selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American game earlier this week, came back after missing the past two games with an ankle injury. He started off strong, scoring all 16 of the Crusaders’ points in the first quarter.
Others started contributing in the second quarter and continued in the third. At one point, Tampa Catholic had cut it to 60-59. Moments later, West Oaks’ Sylvain Francisco hit two straight 3-pointers to make it 66-59.
“We just couldn’t get that one stop we needed when we got close,” Dziagwa said.
Knox finished with 36 points and nine rebounds. Messiah Turner added 12 points, all on 3-pointers.
It does not get any easier for Tampa Catholic. On Saturday, the Crusaders play Montverde, which won three straight national titles from 2012-15.
In the opening game, host Berkeley Prep beat IMG Academy’s varsity team 57-48. Zach Mathis had a team-high 21 points for the Buccaneers (13-6). The game also marked the return of Berkeley Prep forward Kaleeyl Findlay, who was out this season with a fractured tibia.
Huntington Prep (W.Va.) beat Oldsmar Christian 75-53. Elijah Weaver led the Eagles with 18 points.