LAKE WALES — For all his team’s skill, ranginess and proficiency, veteran Jesuit coach Neal Goldman still sensed the planets would have to align perfectly if his team were to steal a win Saturday at Lake Wales.
But the only thing aligning with dead-eye precision were the trajectories of the Highlanders’ 3-point attempts.
The defending Class 5A state runnersup (26-4) combined that accuracy with suffocating full-court pressure to turn an early lead into an insurmountable one. By night’s end, a running clock was hastening the Highlanders’ 76-35 region finals romp.
“They had the total package going on there,” said Tigers coach Neal Goldman, whose team managed a season-low-tying two 3-pointers while watching the hosts hit eight.
“They shot better than I thought they would. They probably played as well as they can play, so you’ve got to give them credit. They’re as good as advertised, plus they shot the ball.”
Before a packed throng that included a few hundred Tigers fans, Lake Wales opened the game with back-to-back treys by Russel Wilson and Marcel White -- both of whom scored 13 points -- and never trailed.
Applying a sturdy 2-3 zone that forced the Highlanders to be patient on offense, Jesuit trailed only 15-9 after one quarter. But the Tigers never could find their outside shot, and the hosts exploded for an 18-5 run behind two Alante’ Fenner treys and some transition buckets.
By halftime, Lake Wales led 33-16. “What we wanted to do was make them play from behind,” Highlanders coach Billy Washington said.
“We kind of knew they haven’t seen the type of defense that we play. We wondered how they were going to adjust to it. We were able to speed the game up and play Lake Wales basketball and they never recovered.”
When Highlanders junior Douglas “Pharoah” Brooks (23 points) sank a trey with 6:40 to go in the third, Lake Wales led 38-16. It increased to 42-17 on White’s alley-oop dunk.
Lake Wales had nearly as many second-half dunks (five) as Jesuit had field goals (six). Junior Jack Fleming’s 11 points led Jesuit (28-2), which was seeking its first final four berth in 27 seasons.
“I thought we played really hard, thought we had a good start as far as staying in the game,” Goldman said. “But our inability to hit some shots, well, and then it just kind of snowballed.”