TAMPA — Bet a stocking stuffer on Chamberlain and Freedom meeting in the Class 7A, District 9 tournament final in early February. Then put another down on the outcome being determined on the final possession.
Nip and tuck converged yet again Tuesday night in New Tampa, with the Patriots (9-1, 4-1) escaping with a 59-58 triumph in the teams’ fourth one-point game in the past two regular seasons.
They’ve split those meetings, though Chamberlain won a fifth encounter by 27 in last season’s district tourney. By contrast, Tuesday’s clash featured seven lead changes in the third quarter alone, and the Chiefs scoring five points in the last 10 seconds.
“It feels good to actually split with them, but I don’t feel good about the game,” Patriots coach Cedric Smith said. “I felt like we did everything to lose the game; I just feel like we got lucky. That’s a real good team.”
Before sputtering at the end, the Patriots staged an 8-0 run for a 55-50 fourth-quarter lead. Senior Stephen Odunna capped the spurt with a putback and baby hook in the lane on back-to-back possessions.
“Just finishing plays,” said Odunna, who missed an open 3-point try at the buzzer of the teams’ Nov. 29 meeting, a 45-44 Chiefs win. “Doing the small stuff to get us the lead.”
Freedom appeared to have things sealed when point guard Adam Kole sank two free throws with 22.8 seconds to go, giving the hosts a 59-53 lead.
But Ronald Blount was fouled after a made basket on the other end and missed the free throw, setting up Ja’Marcus Russ’ trey with three ticks remaining.
A missed Pats free throw gave Chamberlain a final inbounds play with six-tenths of a second to go, but the entry pass was deflected.
Odunna and 6-foot-7 senior Brandon Patchan each scored 10 to lead a balanced Pats attack. Odunna also guarded Chiefs senior Reggie Hart the entire game, holding the defending Hillsborough County scoring champion to 18 points. Hart averaged 35 in three games last week.
“They battled, they knew what was at stake,” said Chiefs coach Christopher Snyder, whose team (7-2, 4-1) must play five games in as many days this week. “Ced’s doing a great job of getting those guys ready to play.”