TAMPA — Prep basketball’s opening night at Jesuit wasn’t without its glitches. The shooters were tight, the fouls plenteous and the passes periodically awry at the Tiger Palace.
But the audience was in February form.
Arguably the most hyped Jesuit basketball season in a quarter-century dawned before an estimated crowd of 1,000 Tuesday night, which ended with a running clock as the Tigers rolled to a 60-24 pummeling of rebuilding Plant.
“I told our guys that’s the largest opening-night crowd we’ve ever had, by far. It’s not even close,” said Tigers coach Neal Goldman, who returns four starters from a team that came within a game of the Class 5A state tournament last winter.
“It had this (Jesuit-Tampa Catholic) atmosphere. I think we were trying a little too hard in some cases, but … our defense has really been good for a couple of years now. That’s our constant. I’m not worried about it. We’re going to play better offensively than that.”
Maximizing its length on the perimeter, the Tigers employed a 2-3 zone that held the Panthers to precious few looks outside. When Plant did get an open shot, it usually missed.
The Tigers weren’t much more accurate, but compensated inside, with 6-foot-4 senior Travis Johnson scoring a game-high 19. Point guard Devin Harris added 14 points and four rebounds.
Plant forward Andrew Sanders, stymied most of the night by Jesuit’s interior size advantage, managed 11 points. The Panthers finished with more than twice as many fouls (19) as field goals (nine).
In the opening game of this rare twin bill, Wharton got 22 points from Sir Patrick Reynolds in a 65-48 victory against Bradenton’s IMG Academy, which featured players from eight countries and two 7-footers.
Senior point guard C.J. McGill added 10 for the Wildcats, who were more active defensively on the perimeter and more than held their own inside against IMG’s bigger players.