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WESLEY CHAPEL — Wesley Chapel forward Erik Thomas’ standout season added its most impressive highlight so far Tuesday night.
Thomas sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer to keep the Wildcats perfect with a 50-47 home victory over Land O’Lakes.
“I was focused and knocked down the shot,” Thomas said after teammates mobbed him to celebrate their 10-0 start.
Thomas and center Marcus Hayne dominated inside early and often. Thomas notched his eighth double double in 10 contests with a game-high 19 points and 13 rebounds, while Hayne added 16 points and 10 boards. The duo closed the first half on a 7-0 run to give the Wildcats a 29-19 lead.
But Land O’Lakes (7-5) battled back, thanks to seven third-quarter points from Victor Obi and a 14-point night from Randal Ackett.
Wesley Chapel led 45-35 with 3:50 remaining before four Ernest McClendon free throws and two baskets by Mike Morrow cut the deficit to one.
“We did not do a very good job of holding the lead,” Wildcats coach Doug Greseth said.
After Hayne’s jumper, Gators senior Jackson Cannon drilled his only field goal of the night — a 3-pointer from the top of the key — to tie the game at 47 with 13 seconds to go.
Greseth drew up a screen for Thomas, his team’s leading scorer and rebounder, even though Thomas was battling foul trouble.
“I just needed to get my head in the game,” the 6-foot-4 Thomas said.
Guard Carson Emery avoided a trap and found Thomas, who launched a prayer from the left elbow that ripped through the net as time expired.
“The drive in his eyes — he knew he had it,” Hayne said.
Thomas’ final basket was the latest milestone in his breakout junior year. He shed 15 pounds during the summer and bulked up to battle inside.
The results so far: 21.8 points per game, 14 rebounds per contest and, on Tuesday, the first game-winner of his career.
“He’s got the total package,” Greseth said. “I think he’s just scratched the surface.”