The question wasn't would Malone blow out Bayshore Christian in Friday's Class B boys state basketball championship.
The question was when.
Bayshore delayed its execution for the first two quarters before the Tigers eventually staked their claim as one of the state's best teams in any classification with a convincing 85-51 victory.
Playing a schedule that was dotted with Class 5A and 4A powers, Malone won 36 games by an average margin of 24 points while losing two by a total of nine. Combine that with an incredible basketball tradition _ nine state championships _ and it was easy to understand why the Tigers, ranked No. 1 all season, were heavily favored.
"We didn't talk about being No. 1 because there's pressure just being Malone," Tigers coach John Ellerbee said. "There's only one standard for Malone basketball, and that's excellence."
The standard was applied against Bayshore, but not before the Faith Warriors turned in a valiant first-half effort. With 19 first-half points from senior Johnathan Johnson and a relatively effective attack against Malone's ball-hawking press, Bayshore trailed by four after the first quarter and was only down by 12 at the half.
But for Bayshore, hope turned to hysteria in the beginning of the third quarter when the Tigers turned their 37-25 advantage into an insurmountable 59-35 lead. Malone snared the victory with a 1-2-2 half-court trap that produced seven consecutive turnovers and a 16-2 run.
"The pressure really worked against us," Johnson said. "I think we just got nervous. They just got to us, the pressure never stopped."
Johnson, who played the entire game, was particularly affected. He scored only one three-point goal in the third period and finished with seven second-half points.
"We felt like our press would eventually take its toll," Ellerbee said. "We felt like fatigue would be a factor and eventually it was _ three minutes into the third quarter."
While Johnson struggled, Malone's Chris Davis was leading four Tigers into double figures with a 24-point effort. Davis hit six of the Tigers' 11 three-pointers while Rodney Jackson had three from behind the arc and finished with 15 points. Kevin Horne provided inside play against Bayshore by scoring 10.
Those scoring efforts and the on-going press continued to fuel Malone's lead. When asked if there was an adjustment Bayshore could have made to stifle Malone's onslaught, Coach Herman Valdes offered this potential strategy.
"Yeah we were going to have one of the players throw the basketball to a parent who would run out of the gym," Valdes said. "Hopefully, the state wouldn't have had another basketball."
It was the seventh time Valdes had brought a team to the state final four and came away without a championship. As the Robinson coach, Valdes reached the final four in 1975 and 1980. He has guided Bayshore to the state tournament five times, including three in the last four years.
"Does it hurt any less than losing the first time? Of course not," Valdes said. "Only six teams get to leave the state tournament with a good taste in their mouths. You're coming down off a basketball high and you're wondering what you're going to do Monday afternoon at 5 p.m."
While Valdes dealt with the pain, Malone enjoyed the ecstasy. There was talk about playing the champions from the other classifications, but there was mostly joy for a team whose fans accept nothing less than state titles.
"We got the job done today on the basketball court," said Jackson, the Class B tournament's most valuable player. "I'm satisfied. Now I just want to go to Walt Disney World."
Most boys titles
Schools that have won the most FHSAA state boys basketball championships:
Miami Senior 15
Daytona Beach Seabreeze 7
Jacksonville Jackson 5
Fort Lauderdale 4