Class 4A state basketball: Leesburg 68, Blake 52

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Fri. March 4, 2011 | Joey Knight | Email

Class 4A state basketball: Leesburg 68, Blake 52

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LAKELAND — Virtually every offensive statistic Blake assistant Charles Smith studied on Class 4A state semifinal foe Leesburg seemed underwhelming.

Leesburg mostly languished from long range, routinely clanked from the free-throw line and possessed a paltry team assist total.

Still, it was 26-4. Smith struggled to do the math.

Then he watched them on tape, and again in person Friday. Now the equation is clear in his 34-year-old mind: Leesburg will play for a state title Saturday because of the things you can’t quantify.

Hustle, heart, resilience — Leesburg brandished it all Friday in a 68-52 triumph over Blake (28-3). In the process, it halted a magical Yellow Jackets season that began with coach Winston Davis having a brain tumor removed and ended with the first final four trip since the school re-opened in 1997.

“The numbers really didn’t tell the tale of this team we just played,” said Smith, who took over most day-to-day coaching duties while Davis — a mostly low-key presence on the bench Friday — gradually recovered.

“They played like they wanted it more than we did,” added Smith’s youngest brother Andre, the Winthrop University-bound point guard who finished his prep career with 16 points and five assists. “They out-hustled us, out-rebounded us. They did the small things and turned them into big things, and that’s what made them look like a better team than us.”

Leesburg, which came in shooting 28 percent from 3-point range and 58 percent from the stripe, initially appeared destined for a frigid day at the Lakeland Center.

The Yellow Jackets (both teams have the same nickname) missed their first six shots and didn’t hit a field goal until 1:33 remained in the first quarter. But two inside put-backs by D’Mauri Jones had them trailing only 9-5 after one quarter.

“We just wanted our defense to hold up while we took their punches,” Leesburg coach Marcel Thomas said.

When Teron Wallace and Undra Mitchem hit consecutive 3-pointers to start the second, Leesburg took an 11-9 lead. By the end of the quarter, the Jackets had gone on an 11-0 run en route to a 29-21 lead at intermission.

Twice in the quarter, a Leesburg player swooped in the lane — virtually uncontested — after a missed free throw for an easy put-back.

For the game, Leesburg finished with a 46-37 rebounding edge, 22 coming on the offensive glass.

“They just out-hustled us for the rebounds,” Davis said.

“It’s not shooting the ball in the basket, it’s not a free throw, there’s not a whole lot of technique to it other than boxing out,” Charles Smith added. “It’s in your heart, it’s in your chest and they were just more active this afternoon than we were.”

Behind Andre Smith and junior guard Brandon Channer (20 points, 14 rebounds), the top-ranked, Tampa-based Yellow Jackets clawed their way back, tying things at 35-all on Smith’s trey late in the third. Another Smith 3 with 6:04 to go in the game again cut Leesburg’s lead to 44-43.

But the Lake County-based Yellow Jackets, who shot 56 percent from the floor after halftime, scored the next 10 points. During one decisive final-quarter stretch, they sank 6 of 8 free throws. Meantime, Blake starters Clarence Peterson and Quintin Brewer fouled out.

“I told the guys a few minutes ago it’s the best young guys I’ve worked with since I’ve been in the coaching field,” said Davis, making the first state appearance of his 27-year career.

“They gave us everything they had. It’s just one of those things that happened today that just didn’t work out for us.”

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