Region boys basketball roundup: Wharton, Jesuit head to state



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Sun. February 24, 2013 | John C. Cotey | Email

Region boys basketball roundup: Wharton, Jesuit head to state

TAMPA — Thomas Tonelli watched the video intently Saturday afternoon. 


On the screen flashed his father, Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli, then a teenage Chicago high school star, winning a championship and celebrating a tremendous moment, one the coach hoped his players would know later that night. 


What Thomas noticed most, the images that stayed with him from 3 p.m. until the final buzzer sounded, was not the cele bration, however. 


It was his dad, running to find his coach to be the first to hug him. 


So when the referees were done conversing and decided that, yes, Wharton had won the Class 7A region final 41-39 over Orlando University, Thomas jumped and screamed and headed right for his old man. 


“We were both looking for each other,” he said. “We made eye contact, and you know I’ll never forget that moment looking at his eyes and jumping into his arms. I wasn’t letting go.” 


Orlando University’s 3-pointer from the corner was on target Saturday night but not on time as one referee waved the shot off almost immediately, setting off some premature delirium. 


A few moments later, the three referees decided to discuss matters. It took an excruciating 30 seconds for the Wildcats. 


Then a whistle and more delirium. 


“It was very intense,” said senior forward Sir Patrick Reynolds. 


“We were scared the refs were going to take away the victory,” said center Chase Litton, whose team faces South Miami in the state semifinals Friday in Lakeland. 


It seemed fitting the game came down to the last millisecond for neither team led by more than six and even then the leads were fleeting. 


A Reynolds lay-in on a pass from Litton gave Wharton the lead for good at 38-36 with 52 seconds left. 


With the Wildcats ahead 40-39, Virgil Crump missed a free throw with 10 seconds left. But Litton squeezed into the lane and tapped the ball to a teammate, leading to a foul and another free throw. 


Litton not only kept the ball from University, but helped run four seconds off the clock. 


Four very important seconds as Elijah Mayes raced the length of the court with six seconds left and drove to the hoop, dishing it to the corner for a 3-pointer that Miguel Rivera got off a split-second too late. 


“I just thought it can’t really end like this,” Thomas Tonelli said. “It was the scariest moment of my life. 


“Then it was the best.” 


5A: Jesuit finally back to state

TAMPA — The 28-year drought is over at Jesuit. On a raucous Saturday night, the proverbial bottom fell from the sky. 


A torrent of 3-pointers, a high-pressure system of halfcourt defense and a surging “Blue Tide” student section converged at the Tiger Palace. By night’s end, top-ranked Jesuit had made amends and history in 32 frenetic minutes. 


Nearly a year to the day after a season-ending 41-point loss at Lake Wales, the Tigers delivered, arguably, their most complete game of the year before a sold-out audience of nearly 1,300, leading wire to wire in a 97-72 dismantling of the Highlanders in the Class 5A region final. 


Jesuit (29-1) earned its first state semifinal trip since 1985, two years before Neal Goldman became coach. 


“This is such a special team, and it would’ve been heartbreaking for us not to get to the final four with this team,” said Goldman, who started five seniors — four of who have been with the program all four years. 


“They’ve played such good b asketball for such consistently long here, and they just really, really deserved it and earned it.” 


The staples of Jesuit’s near-perfect season— suffocating halfcourt defense, long-range precision (11-for-23) and Travis Johnson’s interior presence (game-high 32 points) — congealed from the opening tip. 


Jesuit forced three early turnovers en route to a 9-1 lead, highlighted by the first of 6-foot-6 Colgate signee Jack Fleming’s eight 3-pointers, which tied the school’s single-game record. 


“It felt great,” said Fleming, who finished with 27 points. “My teammates did a great job of finding me open, and I was just able to knock them down. There’s no better feeling.” 


By halftime, Fleming had three treys, Johnson — a brawny 6-4 Cincinnati football signee — had 14 points and the Tigers had a 40-25 lead. 


Periodically effective in transition, the Highlanders converted consecutive turnovers into a dunk and layup, respectively, to cut their deficit to 44-33 early in the third. But Jesuit answered with a 9-2 run. Lake Wales (22-8), the defending 5A state champion, never came within 16 the rest of the way. 


“We’ve got that mentality that once we smell blood, we’re going for it and we want this,” Johnson said. 


Now they want more. Jesuit opens state tournament play Friday morning against Jacksonville Bishop Kenny at the Lakeland Center. 


“It feels great to win this game, but we’re still hungry,” Fleming said. “We didn’t start this season coming out to beat Lake Wales. We came to win a state championship. We’ve still got two more games to do that.” 


4A:  Berkeley Prep falters late

BOCA RATON — Berkeley Prep’s defense stymied Boca Raton St. Andrew’s for three quarters of their Class 4A region final on Saturday. 


But the Bucs faltered late and lost 51-44. 


“I thought we played good defense,” Bucs coach Bobby Reinhart said. 


“We just didn’t execute well offensively.” 


The Bucs (22-8) led 44-42 with just less than three minutes to play thanks to a layup by Marshall Holmes and free throw by Craig Bowman. But St. Andrew’s senior George Andino, who led all scorers with 16 points, scored six as the Scots ended the game with a 9-0 run. 


Justin Gray led the Bucs with 12 points but was held scoreless in the fourth quarter and fouled out in the final minute. 


The feisty defenses of both teams resulted in several fouls in the closing two minutes, including a technical on the Bucs. 


St. Andrew’s (23-3) led 25-21 at halftime. During the third quarter, Berkeley got 3-pointers from Eric Reintgen and Marshall Holmes to chip away at the Scots’ lead. 


The Bucs ended the quarter with an 8-2 run to trail by just one point. 


Both teams had trouble securing the ball during the first half, especially to start the game. Neither team scored in a three-minute span that contained six turnovers. 


In the first quarter alone, the Scots committed eight turnovers to the Bucs’ six. 


Jacob Mathis, however, paced the Bucs in the first half with nine points. 


Reinhart said he was pleased that his team, which includes just two seniors, fought hard throughout the game. 


“We’re one of only eight teams that got to play tonight,” he said. “And I’m very proud of that.” 


3A: Tampa Prep falls at the buzzer 

TAMPA — Free throws swirled out. Layups went in and out. The rim blocked dunks. Passes found the floor instead of the intended target’s hands. And in the end, one possession proved to be the difference. 


Eliel Gonzalez drove the length of the court with six seconds left and hit an off-balance runner as the buzzer sounded to lift visiting Melbourne Florida Air Academy past Tampa Prep 37-35 in a Class 3A region final, dashing the Terps’ hopes of consecutive state titles. 


“We just didn’t score the basketball,” Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon said, “especially when you think of the amount of free throws we missed and number of easy shots.” 


Two of those misses particularly hurt the Terps, who shot just 60 percent from the line. Bernard Woodside was off on a short baseline jumper with under a minute to play. Then following a turnover, Juwan Durham’s layup rimmed out and was rebounded by the Falcons (28-1) with six seconds to play, setting up Gonzalez’s winner. 


“We were looking forward to (this game),” Florida Air coach Aubin Goporo said. “Every year, we’ve called them up and tried to schedule them, and they don’t want to play us.” 


Tampa Prep (27-3) looked tentative in the first half against the much taller Falcons but trailed by just two points. All three players of Florida Air’s frontcourt were 6 feet 6 or taller, including 6-9 center Ted Kapita. 


“Obviously, their size created some tension early,” Fenlon said. “We didn’t take shots like we normally do, but I thought we were in good shape heading into halftime down two.” 


The biggest deficit the Terps faced in the second half was seven before eventually tying it at 35 on Josh Heath’s layup with 3:20 to play. But that turned out to be the last basket of Tampa Prep’s season. 


“It’s just uncharacteristic of us to shoot like that, especially in our own gym,” Fenlon said. “We just didn’t make a play when we needed to make a play.” 


Staff writer Joey Knight, and correspondents Faran Fagen  and Brandon Wright contributed to this report.


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