TAMPA — For one surreal stretch, in the final minute of yet another raucous Jesuit-Tampa Catholic tussle, lanky sophomore Chivarsky Corbett appeared as if he had single-handedly staged one of the greatest comebacks in Crusaders lore.
But before a standing-room-only throng of 1,600 in TC’s gym, Corbett watched his hot hand get trumped by Tigers junior Travis Johnson, who still had a decisive deuce of his own to play.
Johnson’s short jumper in the lane with 14 seconds remaining Friday clinched the Tigers’ 57-56 triumph, negating Corbett’s dizzying do-it-yourself rally. The victory was the Tigers’ first in the Crusader Castle in three seasons.
“We needed this bad. We needed to win a close game and be challenged,” said Jesuit coach Neal Goldman, whose team trailed by 10 in the first half and seven in the second.
“We told our guys maybe it was not our best performance, but as far as mental toughness we were real proud of the way they handled themselves when we were behind, and at the end there.”
Not to be outdone on the resilience meter was TC (11-5), which wiped out a six-point deficit in the final half-minute behind the 6-foot-5 Corbett, who scored all of his game-high 22 points after halftime.
His off-balance 3-pointer with 35.9 seconds to go cut Jesuit’s lead to 55-52. Corbett then stole the ensuing inbounds pass for a layup to make it a one-point game, then stole another inbounds pass.
This time, he was fouled going to the rim, but sank both free throws to put his team ahead with 24.8 seconds to go.
“That was unbelievable,” TC coach Don Dziagwa said.
The only glitch in the comeback — it left too much time on the clock. After crossing halfcourt on the ensuing possession, Jesuit point guard Devin Harris quickly drew a double team but found Johnson (20 points, 13 rebounds) near the free-throw line.
“I pump-faked,” said Johnson, a 6-4 Tigers receiver who has 35 football scholarship offers but calls hoops his first love. “I saw Chivarsky jump, and I saw a lane to my left and went left and just threw it up.”
The Tigers (17-1), who have not lost to an in-state team, neutralized TC’s breakneck tempo but were stifled early on by the Crusaders’ 3-point barrage. Sophomore Sam Harris had four in the first half, three during a 14-0 TC run that gave the host a 23-13 lead.
“I think maybe we were a little stunned. We weren’t expecting Harris to make four 3s honestly, and he did,” Goldman said. “We felt like a good team should come back from a seven-point deficit and later a 10-point deficit, and we did.”