TAMPA — If Tuesday’s proceedings in Town ’N Country are any sign, the Jesuit Tigers have achieved their No. 1 ranking in Class 5A with nary a style point.
The components devoid of glamour — free-throw shooting and defense — propelled the top-ranked Tigers (23-1) to a 56-44 victory against Berkeley Prep (18-4) in the Straz Family Field House.
Jesuit finished 18-for-21 from the stripe, with senior point guard Devin Harris (21 points, nine rebounds, six steals) going 9-for-10. Three times in the final two minutes, Berkeley scored to make it a three- or two-possession game, only to watch Harris respond with a pair of free throws all three times.
“I just think we’ve got some guys that are gamers. Devin Harris is one of those,” Tigers coach Neal Goldman said. “Devin Harris plays at another level in big games. … We haven’t been challenged every night, but we’ve played our best against the best teams on our schedule.”
Tuesday, Jesuit’s best oozed of blue-collar grit.
Employing a variety of zones and periodic pressure, the Tigers held Berkeley to a season-low scoring total, greatly limiting the Bucs’ second-shot opportunities. Offensively, Jesuit established beefy 6-foot-4 center Travis Johnson (18 points), who in turn established his supremacy on the glass (11 rebounds).
“Travis is a wide body, everybody knows that,” Harris said. “So no one down there’s going to be able to handle him and he’s patient, he’s a veteran. … He has a great IQ, so when there’s a double team he can find the open man.”
Johnson scored eight in the third period, when the Tigers built their lead to as many as 15. Berkeley cut its deficit to six, 44-38, on Jacob Mathis’ 3-pointer with 3:06 to go, then watched Harris get whistled for a charge on the other end.
Berkeley failed to capitalize, and 6-6 Colgate signee Jack Fleming answered with a trey — his only field goal of the game — to increase Jesuit’s lead to 47-38 with 2:21 to go. From there, Harris’ free-throw proficiency sealed things.
Junior Division I prospect Justin Gray’s 12 points — four below his season average — led Berkeley. Classmate Marshall Holmes scored his team’s first nine points, then was held scoreless the rest of the way.
“It wasn’t always pretty basketball, and I knew it would be that way,” Goldman said. “I knew it would be a tough, gut-it-out type of game and I wanted to keep shutting them down, keep stopping them. Justin Gray had to earn every point he had.”