TAMPA — Physically, Saturday's Class 4A, District 9 final was one-sided. Blake had more speed on the perimeter and more size in the post than No. 3-seeded Jesuit, and periodically it exploited those advantages at will.
But while the top-seeded Yellow Jackets seemed to outmatch the Tigers, they couldn't outmoxie them.
Down by 17 at one point, Jesuit (16-9) changed its defense and rallied to tie before falling 52-49. The Tigers missed a couple of decent looks from 3-point range on the game's final possession.
"I couldn't ask for any more out of our guys," Tigers coach Neal Goldman said. "It's one of those games you don't want to lose, but it gives us a lot of confidence going forward."
Jesuit opened the game in a 2-3 zone to try to neutralize 6-foot-7 Blake senior Michael McFarland and 6-5 teammate George Taliaferro. The result: Point guard Andre Smith scored 15 first-half points, and sophomore Brandon Channer drained three 3-pointers in the same span.
Smith's trey capped a 17-3 run that gave Blake (24-4) a 29-12 lead. Jesuit trimmed its deficit to 10 points by halftime, then went man-to-man. McFarland scored eight third-quarter points, but the Tigers rallied behind Travis Johnson (18 points) and Tim Ganther (17).
Ganther hit consecutive jumpers to cut Jesuit's deficit to 45-42. After a McFarland free throw, guard Hunter Clonts hit a runner to make it a two-point game. McFarland then missed two free throws, and Johnson found Ganther in the lane on the other end to tie the score with 2:14 to play.
Jack Fleming's 3-pointer gave Jesuit a 49-48 lead with 1:33 to go. Taliaferro scored a second-chance basket to put Blake up by one. Jesuit failed to convert on its last two possessions.
"They were making shots, and we were turning the ball over and not making good decisions," Blake coach Winston Davis said. "So the combination … against a shooting team like that, that's going to happen."