ST. PETERSBURG — With an undefeated record and a top ranking in Class 8A, St. Petersburg coach Chris Blackwell knows his team will get an opponent's "A" game every night.
On Saturday, Wharton did so and beat the Green Devils 50-49 in the final of the Northeast Holiday Invitational tournament.
St. Petersburg (11-1) suffered its first loss of the season. Wharton (13-2) wins its second Northeast tournament in three years.
"It was a tremendous team effort," Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli said. "I can't say enough about our defensive effort. Both teams battled hard. I just can't say enough about our team."
The game came down to the final three seconds. Clinging to a 48-44 lead, Wharton's Jack Taylor hit two free throws with 56 seconds left to make it 50-44. But St. Petersburg came back with a 3-pointer by Dayon Griffin 10 seconds later to cut it to 50-47.
Taylor then had a one-and-one free-throw attempt with 22 seconds left but missed. St. Petersburg called timeout to set up a 3-point shot. Terrell Burney shook free in the left corner and launched a 3-pointer with five seconds left.
The shot bounced off the front rim and Darius Banks tipped it in with three seconds left to pull within a point. Chase Litton then threw a long inbounds pass to Auden Tate, who was fouled immediately. He missed his free throw, but St. Petersburg had no time to get off a shot.
"When you're on the top you're going to get everybody's best game," Blackwell said. "That's what happened tonight. They brought out their best game. We had our shots. I don't think we were patient enough. We settled for some shots we shouldn't have."
St. Petersburg started slowly and trailed 15-13 after the first quarter. But the Green Devils settled down and took a 28-20 halftime lead. In the third quarter, Litton hit a layup with 2:30 left to tie the game at 33. Tate hit a 3-pointer at the end of the third to make it 38-35 and the Wildcats never trailed again.
"It was all about teamwork," said Litton, who scored 11 and was named the tournament's most valuable player. "We knew they had shooters. We manned up with the top three guys and zoned the bottom two guys. If we made their guys underneath make plays we thought we could win and that's what happened."
Tampa Prep takes crown over Shorecrest
ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Prep's Juwan Durham and Shorecrest's Jay Joyer each pulverized a platoon of defenders during the first two rounds of the Shorecrest Holiday Tournament.
So it was only natural to assume the pair of 6-foot-9 forwards would headline Saturday's championship game that featured teams ranked in the Class 3A state poll by the Florida Association of Basketball Coaches. Tampa Prep is fifth, and Shorecrest ninth.
And the matchup had its moments, with both altering shots and rim-rattling dunks.
But in the end, Durham had the better result. The sophomore, named the tournament MVP, had a team-high 17 points, including a turnaround jumper in the final minute that sealed a 59-52 victory for the 11-1 Terrapins.
"That was a shot we would not have drawn up," Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon said. "But it worked. That's the great thing about high school basketball. You never know what can happen."
In Friday's semifinal win, Durham sprained his left thumb and had it heavy bandaged for Saturday's championship game.
"I wasn't at my best, but I think I got better as the game progressed," Durham said. "It was hard to get into a rhythm, and I had trouble dribbling. But I was able to help my team with some big buckets at the end."
By turning up its defensive pressure, Tampa Prep outscored Shorecrest 16-4 in the fourth quarter. Joyer finished with 15.
"We got a little sloppy with some turnovers at the end," said coach Daryl Blume, whose Chargers fell to 11-3. "But this was a game that gave us some confidence that we play with anyone in the state."
Nature Coast Invite: Tarpon Springs (13-2) rode a 28-point third-quarter outburst to beat Brooks-DeBartolo (9-4) 65-43, advancing to the championship game of the Nature Coast Invitational. The Spongers will play Nature Coast (12-1), an 83-77 winner over Orlando Jones, at 7 p.m. Monday.
Times staff writer Bob Putnam and Times correspondent Derek LaRiviere contributed to this report.