TAMPA — Just as the coach planned it, the Tampa Prep boys basketball team’s hectic exam schedule is coinciding with the holiday break.
The Terrapins (8-0) passed their first significant test Tuesday, rebounding from a sloppy final stretch in the first half for a 46-40 victory against previously undefeated Chamberlain (10-1) in the semifinals of the City of Tampa Championship at Tampa Prep.
Next up: another midterm-like matchup, against Blake (10-0) in tonight’s 7:30 final.
“It’s games like this you learn from,” said Terrapins coach Joe Fenlon, whose club won its first seven contests by a whopping average of 36.7 points. “You don’t learn from games you win by a running clock.”
The Terps built a 24-16 lead in the second period before watching Chamberlain end the first half with a 9-0 run capped by Zack Shepard’s layup off a turnover. Senior Eric Storts (18 points) had a 3-pointer and putback during the spurt.
But Tampa Prep, which allowed nine offensive rebounds in the first half, surrendered only three the rest of the game, limiting Chamberlain to 15 second-half points.
“We gave them too many opportunities for more shots in the first half, and … in a game like this you can’t afford to give points away,” Fenlon said.
Chamberlain mounted a final challenge when Storts sank a 3-pointer and followed with a layup to cut his team’s deficit to 40-38 with 2:35 to go. But the Chiefs failed to find their shooting touch the rest of the way, missing at least six consecutive shots at one point.
In the first semifinal, Blake held off a furious Tampa Catholic fourth-quarter rally for a 68-59 triumph.
Down by 16 in the fourth, TC (7-2) embarked on an 18-5 run aided in part by a series of Yellow Jackets turnovers. Freshman Isiah Thomas started and ended the spurt with a 3-pointer, the latter of which cut TC’s deficit to 60-57 with 1:11 to go.
But a string of turnovers in the final minute thwarted the Crusaders. Blake senior point guard Andre Smith converted back-to-back steals into transition layups, the last of which gave Blake a 67-57 lead with 18 seconds to play.
Smith, who has signed with Division I Winthrop, led his team with 20 points, including five during a 9-0 run to end the first half that gave Blake a 38-29 lead at intermission.
“We had some guys step up, make some plays at the (right) time, but we’re still making some mental mistakes,” Jackets coach Winston Davis said. “But we had guys make some plays when we needed to, some big baskets.”