TAMPA — A year ago, Tampa Prep missed the final four and a chance at defending its state title when a Florida Air Academy buzzer beater ousted the Terrapins from the playoffs.
And when Juwan Durham stepped up to the free throw-line in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Class 3A region final, his team leading Orlando First Academy by just one point, the sophomore forward could think of nothing else.
“I did not want a repeat of last year,” he said. “I just wanted to win that game.”
With a dunk and an alley-oop in the first half, Durham had already put on a show. But down the stretch he came up even bigger, sinking 5-of-6 free throws in the fourth quarter to help the Terrapins seal a 53-49 win. Tampa Prep will play in its ninth final four on Tuesday in Lakeland.
Durham came into the game just 17 shy of the 1,000-point benchmark. The 6-foot-9 forward, who led Tampa Prep with 27 points Friday, had 18 in the first half. After the game, coach Joe Fenlon gave Durham the game ball to commemorate his accomplishment.
“It’s unreal,” Fenlon said. “He’s such an unflappable kid, too. He’s drawn two or three guys beating him up every game, and he never shows emotion, he just does his job, and he does it well.”
From the start of the game Friday, Durham and the Terrapins had their way with First Academy, shooting 68 percent from the floor. The Royals, who shot less than 30 percent in the first half, couldn’t hit much of anything.
First Academy came out of the locker room after the break a different team. It finished the third quarter 6-of-9 shooting, and a scrappy Royals defense forced the Terrapins into shooting woes of their own.
With a 3-pointer from senior guard Trey Winders at the 7:42 mark of the fourth quarter, the Royals, who trailed by as many as 16 in the first half, pulled within one.
Fenlon said his team’s excitement to get to the next level led the Terrapins to take poor shots late. Still, Royals fouls repeatedly put Tampa Prep on the free-throw line, and the Terrapins delivered, making 10 of 12 in the fourth quarter.
Five second-half 3-pointers had helped the Royals chip away at Tampa Prep’s large lead. So down by two points with less than 17 seconds to go, First Academy attempted a go-ahead 3 that fell short. Michael Fridella grabbed the rebound, was fouled and sank two free throws on the other end to put the game away.
Having lost eight seniors — half of his 16-man team from last season — Fenlon couldn’t say enough about a young team that fought to get back to the place it barely missed a year ago.
“We rebuilt,” he said. “But when you rebuild with (Durham) in the middle, it makes life a little bit easier.”