TAMPA — For a team that had gone to the state semifinals the previous two seasons, Hillsborough had high expectations this postseason, hoping to appear in its first state final since 1969. So when the Terriers’ 12-point lead in the first half Tuesday night evaporated, Hillsborough’s eventual victory — decided in the game’s final seconds — brought celebration but also concerns.
Trailing by one point with 23 seconds to play, Jalen Harris hit two free throws and Tyriq James added a third seconds later as the Terriers rallied past Lakeland 71-69 to advance to Friday’s Class 6A region final.
“Those were big free throws,” Hillsborough coach Chris Ward said. “We’ve been working a lot on free throws recently but, at the same time, we shouldn’t have been in that situation.”
Using physical prowess inside to grab key rebounds and follow-up shots, Hillsborough (22-7) looked ready to cruise leading 32-20 late in the second quarter. But Trey Lane hit two 3-pointers to key a 14-2 run for the Dreadnaughts (20-9). Lane had six of Lakeland’s 10 3-pointers and scored a game-high 26 points. Anytime Hillsborough looked ready to pull away, Lakeland fought back with its 3-point shot.
“We made bad passes, we made bad decisions and missed on silly things that we need to work on,” Ward said.
James, a senior, led Hillsborough with 25 points and stepped up offensively. He hit a layup at the halftime buzzer to give Hillsborough a 34-30 lead. Then he helped get Hillsborough crucial momentum late in the third quarter. With the Terriers trailing 44-43, James’ steal and fast-break layup gave his team a lead late in the third quarter.
“We knew they would compete and fight to the end so I was glad we matched their energy and came out the winner in the end,” James said.
In the fourth quarter, Hillsborough twice led by as many as seven and eight points, but the Dreadnaughts hit four of their 10 3s to keep the game close before taking the lead in the game’s final minute. Lane led Lakeland with 26 points and Jalen Harris added 16 points for Hillsborough.
The Terriers play next at top-seeded Bartow, which defeated Winter Haven 60-49.
“We have to learn from our mistakes and be ready to play Friday because if we make the same mistakes it’s going to cost us,” Ward said.
Boys basketball region finals
Games at 7 p.m. Friday.
6A: No. 3 Fort Myers at No. 1 East Lake
6A: No. 3 Hillsborough at No. 1 Bartow
5A: No. 3 Naples at No. 1 Clearwater
4A: No. 6 Titusville Astronaut at No. 1 Tampa Catholic
3A: No. 7 Seffner Christian at No. 1 Community School of Naples
2A: No. 2 Bayshore Christian at No. 1 First Baptist