TAMPA — The game plan for Palm Harbor University was to take the air out of the ball and slow the tempo. Instead, Wharton took the Hurricanes’ breath away with an unprecedented defensive effort.
The Wildcats (20-6) held PHU (16-11) without a point in the second quarter — the Hurricanes’ first scoreless period of the season — and rolled to their fifth region semifinal Thursday night with a 55-23 victory in Class 8A action.
The Wildcats led 8-6 late in the first quarter when they went on a 17-0 run that carried into the opening minute after intermission. By then, PHU was down 25-6 and its methodical offensive attack had little chance at a comeback.
“Coach (Tommy Tonelli) told us to pick up the intensity on defense as well on offense,” said John Christian, who led Wharton with 16 points. “The first half we were struggling a little bit, but toward halftime, (Tonelli) really stressed (defense) and we did what he told us to do.”
Palm Harbor U., going for its first region victory in three attempts, missed 12 consecutive shots during Wharton’s spurt, including 0-for-11 in the second period.
“The second quarter killed us, absolutely killed us,” ’Canes coach Mark Carter said. “We had some pretty good looks, (we) missed two layups and a dunk that I remembered, (and) turned it over two or three times on a fastbreak where I thought we had a chance to score also. (Wharton) played great defense …you’ve got to tip your hat to them.”
Jack Taylor added 10 points for Wharton, which shot 51 percent and got 12 of its 19 baskets on layups. PHU shot only 29 percent (11 of 38) and committed 15 turnovers, five in the disastrous second quarter.