TAMPA — Subtract the P.A. system that went juice-less during the pregame invocation, and the renewal of the Jesuit-Tampa Catholic rivalry teemed with its typical electricity.
More than 1,600 fans shoehorned their way into TC’s gym. Boisterous student sections hurled brash chants at each other. Just before tip-off Friday, ex-Crusaders stars Otis Kitchen and Kelly Hite, members of TC’s 1995 state title team, were inducted into the program’s hall of fame.
It was amid this standing-room-only scene that TC senior David Gonzalez may have had the most invisible — and indispensable — 14-point night of his life.
With his team trailing, and sleek teammates Lashawn Harrison and Austin Aikens being neutralized by Jesuit’s zone traps, Gonzalez sparked an 18-6 third-quarter run to help propel TC (16-2) to a 65-48 victory.
In a triumph that snapped Jesuit’s five-game win streak in the series, Harrison (26 points) and Aikens (16) led the way to be sure. But Gonzalez scored nine of the Crusaders’ 18 during that decisive run that gave TC a 44-34 lead at the end of three periods.
The Tigers (9-7) never came within nine points of the hosts the rest of the way.
“We came out in the start of the second half and wanted to get (Gonzalez) going a little bit,” TC coach Don Dziagwa said. “You’re not going to go very far if you have only two guys that are scoring, and that’s what we had in the first half. So in the second half it was nice to see some other guys step up.”
Harrison, who entered the game with three 3-pointers all season, had that many in the first 14 minutes. By the end of the first half, he and Aikens had combined for 22 of TC’s 24 points. But the hosts led by only two.
“At halftime we were not happy,” Dziagwa said. “I thought we were playing exactly the way they wanted us to play. We don’t want the game to be in the 40s or 50s. That’s a halfcourt game; we’re not really good at that.”
Jesuit took its only lead of the game, 28-26, on freshman Travis Johnson’s putback. That’s when Harrison and Aiken’s complementary players surfaced.
Gonzalez sank two free throws, then converted a traditional three-point play to give his team a 31-28 lead. Rangy senior James St. Marc, who discovered only Thursday that his father — in Haiti on business — had survived the nation’s massive earthquake, followed with two baskets including a two-handed dunk.
Harrison’s fourth trey gave TC a 38-29 lead.
“Lashawn has really been the big difference on our team,” Dziagwa said.
“Last year, we had Austin run the point, and as a freshman that’s tough. But his best position is at the two (guard) where he can run the floor and do those types of things. He’s able to do that now because Lashawn runs the point.”