TAMPA — Jesuit saw Wednesday's home game against Plant as an opportunity to make its claim as the top team in the district.
Two district losses to the Panthers, Class 5A-10's top dogs last season, stuck in the Tigers' craw from a year ago. And despite the Tigers' impressive start this season, both parties knew the district would go through Plant.
And in the early moments Wednesday, it wasn't looking good for Jesuit as Plant scored 13 of the game's first 17 points, but a late first-half run turned the game in Jesuit's favor and the Tigers never looked back in a 70-66 win over the Panthers.
Jesuit (10-2) handed Plant (8-4) its first district loss and put both teams atop the district standings at 5-1.
"Everyone says the Tampa Catholic game is big," Jesuit senior guard Austin Schonbrun said, "but the Plant game is just as big, especially after last year."
Despite a slow start, a 12-4 Jesuit run to end the first half — led by a pair of 3-pointers by Schonbrun, who had a team-high 25 points — energized the chant-happy Tigers student section.
"That's what 3-pointers do," said Schonbrun, who hit four of Jesuit's seven 3s. "You make some big shots like that and you feel good about yourself."
The Tigers' run came with Plant's leading scorer, East Tennessee State signee Sheldon Cooley, on the bench for the half's final four minutes with two fouls. It didn't help that the Panthers were 1-for-10 from the free-throw line in the first half.
"We lost our mental focus," Cooley said. "We let the crowd get in our head and we just weren't playing Plant basketball."
Tigers senior center John Plasencia scored seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter and added 10 rebounds. John Ganther added 11 points and Tim Ganther nine.
Cooley finished with a game-high 33 points, including 18 in a fourth-quarter Plant run that made the game close in the end.