TAMPA — The last thing Wharton needed for its fifth game in nine days was the high-octane tempo of undefeated St. Petersburg.
But tight defense, gritty work on the boards and a decisive fourth-quarter stretch represented the restrictor plates that conserved the Wildcats’ collective mileage Tuesday at the Berkeley Basketball Invitational.
Wharton (8-1) scored the fourth quarter’s first 13 points to break open a one-possession game and hold on for a 52-46 triumph in the opening semifinal. Point guard C.J. McGill scored seven in a row during the run and finished with a game-high 15.
“He did a really good job in that stretch,” Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli said. “They all did really, just moving the ball and playing good defense, rebounding.”
The Wildcats, already missing 6-foot-6 sophomore Chase Litton (ankle) in the low post, face Vero Beach (6-2) in tonight’s 7:30 final. Junior Sir Patrick Reynolds promises they won’t be out of gas. Out of position? That’s another matter.
The loss of Litton, injured in a weekend pickup game, forced Reynolds to move from the two-guard to power forward, where he scored nine points Tuesday including the final basket in the fourth-quarter spurt.
Before that, the Green Devils (8-1), who had been whistled for eight fouls before Wharton got its first, cut their deficit to 31-30 on Demontrae Adams’ 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:27 to go in the third. Patrik Hauri answered for Wharton, slashing the lane for a layup.
St. Petersburg didn’t score again until 4:19 remained in the game, and didn’t get its first field goal of the fourth until the 1:53 mark.
Consecutive treys by Andrew Graus in the last minute served to narrow the final margin.
“(Reynolds) is affected the most in terms of the position change, but they’ve all got to play more minutes, they’ve all got to play some spots they’re not used to,” Tonelli said. “But I give them credit for really gutting it out in a really helter-skelter (game).”
In the nightcap, Vero Beach led Berkeley Prep by two at halftime before surging in the second half for a 59-43 victory. Bucs sophomore Justin Gray scored 12 of his team-high 17 in the first half, giving him 33 points in two tournament contests.