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TAMPA — On a night when Plant’s free-throw shooting was as frigid as its 60-degree gymnasium, Alonso senior Malachi Christopher answered the Panthers’ clangs with clutch baskets.
With 17 seconds to go in regulation, the 6-foot point guard drove the lane for a layup to tie the score, then did it again with 40 seconds remaining in overtime Thursday to help seal a 70-66 triumph in a Class 8A, District 7 showdown.
Christopher, who has started since Game One of his freshman season, finished with 29 points. His final penetrating layup in overtime gave the Ravens (6-2, 4-1) a 68-64 lead.
“He’s grown up,” Ravens coach Todd Price said.
“The one area of his game that we’ve talked about is his physical toughness. … I thought he was unbelievable tonight, particularly when there was a play that (had) to be made. He kept going in there and getting hit, getting hit, driving the lane.”
While Christopher was money, the Panthers’ free-throw touch fell off the fiscal cliff. Plant, which had clawed back from a 13-point first-half deficit, went 5-for-16 from the stripe in the game’s last nine minutes.
“I’m still at a loss,” Panthers coach Michael Slonaker said. “We’re good free-throw shooters. We put them in all different types of situations in practices, we put them in pressure, we’ve shot hundreds of them — I’m at a loss.”
In a clash of low-post (Plant) and long-range styles, the Ravens hit five 3-pointers in the second quarter, with Greg Robinson’s trey capping an 11-1 run that gave Alonso a 28-15 lead. Robinson finished with 16.
The guests got sloppy from there and Plant seized, finishing the half with an 18-5 run. Alex Mitura’s 3-point bank shot at the first-half buzzer tied the score at 33.
Plant (4-4, 3-2) scored its last field goal of regulation on Sam Flagg’s traditional three-point play — giving it a 55-49 lead — with more than 51/2 minutes to go. From there, the Panthers went 4-for-12 from the stripe in regulation. During that same span, Christopher hit a trey and two penetrating layups.
“When he came as a freshman … he was strictly a 3-point shooter,” said Price, whose team hit 18-of-21 free throws. “Now, I think that’s part of his game. He makes other people better, you can’t defend with one guy, he finds guys, and this is the first year he’s ever played the point. He’s done a heck of a job.”