LAKELAND — The Class 3A state semifinal between Bishop McLaughlin and Andrew Jackson on Wednesday started promptly at 2 p.m., and then the refs blew their whistles for most of the next hour.
By the time the game ended, 56 fouls had been called, 37 against Andrew Jackson, which had four players foul out in a 79-71 loss to the Hurricanes, who survived without anybody fouling out.
Afterward, the opposing coaches had completely different thoughts about the officiating.
“The refs did a great job,” said Bishop McLaughlin coach Derrick Sharp. “That really was one of the best group of refs we’ve ever come across. I mean, if you foul 100 times, then you have to call 100 fouls. The refs (Wednesday) had the guts to make all the calls. Some refs won’t make all the calls, but (Andrew Jackson) kept fouling and the refs kept calling them.”
Andrew Jackson coach James Collins saw things differently.
“We weren’t allowed to play (Wednesday),” he said. “I can take a loss. But the kids are supposed to decide the game, not anybody else. It’s supposed to be a kids’ game. It can’t be one-sided like that. You have to call it both ways. Did my kids’ foul? Yes. But not that many times. No way. You just can’t give another team that many foul shots and expect to win.”
Bishop McLaughlin was awarded 49 free throws and made 37, while Jackson shot 11-of-19. Hurricanes junior guard Emanuel Sharp was 21-of-22 from the charity stripe, accounting for more than half of his game-high 39 points.
“We played (Jackson) last fall in a preseason game, and we knew they played like 100 guys (eight had double-digit minutes on Wednesday),” Derrick Sharp said. “We also knew they were really aggressive on defense and they would foul. So we tried to take advantage of that.”
That translated to Emanuel Sharp spending much of his time driving to the basket, often getting fouled as he rose to the rim.
“We had to take what they gave us,” he said.
Jackson (19-7) looked like it might take control in the first quarter, jumping out to a 14-4 lead before Derrick Sharp called a timeout. He told his team, “Just relax and you’ll hit some shots and start dribbling and everything will feel fine.”
The Hurricanes (22-6) apparently took the words to heart, settling down and outscoring the Tigers 32-9 in the second quarter to take a 38-23 halftime lead. Jackson cut the gap to 50-43 to start the fourth quarter but never pulled closer than six points the rest of the way.
“Every time we’d start making a run, we’d get a foul called on us,” Collins said. “How are you gonna come back from that?”
Emanuel Sharp and teammate Javy Barber picked up their fourth fouls with about 3 minutes remaining, but no other Hurricane was called for more than three.
Junior forward Dillon Mitchell proved instrumental on the boards, collecting 13 rebounds to go with his 14 points. Anthony Davis Jr. added 12 points and seven rebounds, while Matthew Webster finished with nine points and seven rebounds.
“I knew Jackson was going to be tough and we would have to match their toughness,” Derrick Sharp said. “I think we did that (Wednesday). I think this helped knock out the jitters and prepare us for the final.”
Bishop McLaughlin will play for the Class 3A title Friday at 4:30 p.m. against Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian, which defeated Miami Country Day 69-51 in the other semifinal.
Calvary Christian (15-8 and ranked No. 1 in Class 3A) will not display the same full-court, relentless, aggressive man-to-man style of Andrew Jackson, but the Eagles’ roster of eight players at 6-foot-5 or taller (including two listed at 6-10 and 6-11) will present matchup challenges at every position.
“You have to adjust, and we can do that,” Derrick Sharp said. “We look forward to it.”