LAKELAND — Of all the concerted, clamorous roars emitted by Jesuit’s student body this week, two stood out.
The first occurred during Monday morning’s convocation, when Fr. Richard Hermes announced classes were being canceled Friday so students could attend the Tigers’ state basketball semifinal in Lakeland.
The other arrived with 80 seconds to play in said semifinal, when senior J.J. Weir made a steal near the sideline and fed classmate Joey Galvis for a transition layup and four-point lead.
That steal, which Galvis deemed the defensive play of the year, helped the Tigers (30-1) secure a 46-41 victory against Jacksonville Bishop Kenny. Jesuit faces Plantation American Heritage (24-6) Saturday at 10:05 a.m. for the Class 5A crown and its first state title in 29 years.
“If he didn’t get (the steal), they might have hit a (3-pointer) or a two, and gone up one,” said Galvis, who led all players with 16 points including four treys. “It put us up four and it changed the whole momentum of the game.”
Momentum was something Jesuit had not lacked in two months.
A boisterous Tigers fan base, including a “Blue Tide” student section of several hundred, watched their team deliver the one element it had withheld all year: suspense. Jesuit entered with 18 consecutive double-digit wins, all by at least 11 points.
“We thought, in a close game, that would be to our advantage,” Bishop Kenny coach Jerry Buckley said.
Jesuit took a 10-point halftime lead behind Galvis and 6-foot-6 classmate Jack Fleming, who combined for five first-half 3s. The Tigers shot 46.2 percent from the floor in the first half, and hit five of their 10 3-point tries.
Then their touch abandoned them, and the Crusaders (28-7) clawed back.
A pair of free throws by Christian Carlyle with 2:15 to play capped a 7-0 Bishop Kenny run and cut Jesuit’s lead to 42-40.
On the previous trip, 6-4 forward Travis Johnson’s up-and-under attempt in the paint somehow avoided the hole. On the ensuing trip, a Fleming jumper missed.
“We did all the right things and sometimes the ball won’t go in,” said Tigers coach Neal Goldman, whose team shot 33 percent overall in the second half.
“That happens at every level. I just thought we kept stopping them and that allowed us to get the win.”
The biggest stop — perhaps of the season — occurred after Fleming’s miss. Weir poked the ball from senior guard Brennan Sullivan and delivered it to Galvis in transition.
“I just think we were just overwhelmed and moving fast when we didn’t have to. That’s not our game, to take quick shots and everything,” Galvis said. “But after that steal we got the lead and got a little more comfortable and slowed things down and took control.”
Joey Knight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.