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TAMPA — Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli half-jokingly said his plan was to “hang on for dear life” while watching his defense try to slow North Port center Kasey Wilson on Thursday.
Wilson, a 6-foot-7 force in the middle, kept his team in the game, but Wharton was in control for most of the contest en route to a 50-43 victory in the Class 6A region quarterfinals.
Other than a brief Bobcats lead minutes into the game, Wharton (22-5) led throughout.
“It was a great team effort for us,” Tonelli said. “I thought we were running a good offense and playing some defense at the same time.”
Defense certainly was key early on. After taking a 7-5 lead midway through the first quarter on a 3-pointer by Sir Patrick Reynolds, Wharton’s defense clamped down. The Wildcats limited the Bobcats (15-6) to just 15 points for the half, their lowest first-half point total of the season.
Meanwhile, behind the play of A.J. Astroth and Xavier Owens, the Wildcats built an eight-point advantage. But Wilson heated up in the third quarter, leading North Point on a 16-8 run that pulled it within 33-31.
Wharton best contained Wilson by using its offense to drive to the basket and draw him into foul trouble. Wilson collected four fouls in the fourth to tally five and foul out late. Along the way, key 3-pointers from Astroth and Reynolds helped Wharton pull away. Astroth led
Wharton with 15 points while Owens and Reynolds each added 11 .
“We were swimming upstream there for a while but I think we were able to do some things and keep our advantage,” Tonelli said.