ST. PETERSBURG — The top two teams in the Northeast Christmas Invitational advanced to tonight’s final, but they took different paths to get there.
Wharton struggled early before finally putting away Boca Ciega 59-48 in Friday’s first semifinal. In the second game, St. Petersburg had little trouble getting past host Northeast 72-41. Wharton (12-2) will play St. Petersburg (11-0) at 8:30 for the tournament championship.
Boca Ciega jumped on the Wildcats early and led 6-0 midway through the first quarter. After three free throws, Wharton got its first field goal with 2:11 left on Thomas Tonelli’s jump shot. From there, the Wildcats took an 11-6 lead before Boca Ciega’s Matt Humbert hit a 3-point shot at the buzzer to cut the first-quarter lead to 11-9.
Wharton couldn’t shake Boca Ciega in the second quarter. Chase Litton converted a three-point play and Jack Taylor hit two 3-point shots to give the Wildcats a 20-11 lead.
But the Pirates came back with a 3-pointer by Humbert, a layup by Koby Wynn and two Humbert free throws to cut the lead to 20-18. Wharton only led 22-18 at halftime.
“The first half was frustrating,” Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli said. “We had 11 turnovers, and a lot of those were just us throwing the ball away. They were just unforced. But I was proud of the way they kept their composure and played tougher and smarter in the second half.”
The Pirates (5-9) led 28-26 halfway through the third. But Wharton went on an 18-5 run to take a 44-33 lead late in the quarter. Boca Ciega got to within 48-43 in the fourth, but Wharton got some key steals and conversions to end any Pirates comeback.
“We’re just young,” Boca Ciega coach Randy Shuman said. “We’re a heck of a JV team.”
Taylor led Wharton with 17 points. John Christian added 12 and Litton had 11. Raeshon Dunbar had 16 points for Boca Ciega.
In the second game, St. Petersburg was not really challenged by Northeast, as the Green Devils started on a 10-2 run. St. Petersburg hurt the Vikings (1-15) with size, but also with outside shooting. The Green Devils hit 10 3-point shots in the 31-point win.
They also spread out their scoring; St. Petersburg had nine players score. Darius Banks had 14 points, Dayon Griffin added 13, Pro Wells had 11 and Travis Bianco had 10.
Keith Harrington’s 15 points led Northeast.
In today’s fifth-place game, Tampa Bay Tech will play Northeast at 5:30. Countryside faces Boca Ciega for third place at 7.