Many assumed Deandre Burnett’s graduation would finish the Carol City boys’ basketball team as a contender.
The Chiefs have since adapted.
With a taller and more balanced lineup, Carol City stands at the top of its district going into next week’s playoffs.
But the Chiefs are hoping to show they are a state-title contender this week in a competitive GMAC tournament. Carol City began that attempt on the right note Monday night with a 55-45 victory against Columbus in a quarterfinal at Norland High.
“A lot of people thought we were done after last season, but we knew we had a special group of young players coming back,” Carol City coach Barry Robinson said. “One of the first things we told these kids was not to worry about replacing a guy like [Burnett]. Guys like him don’t come around that often. But we knew if we the combination of five players on the court working well together, we’d be OK.”
The Chiefs (19-4), who are making their first GMAC appearance in three seasons, advanced to play the host Vikings (19-4) Tuesday at 6 p.m. in a semifinal. Norland routed Coral Reef 55-32 in the second game of the evening, dominating the Barracudas (17-6) from the second quarter on.
In the other half of the bracket played at Miami High, Booker T. Washington (18-5) and South Miami (20-3) each pulled off close wins to advance to the semifinals. Booker T. beat Miami High (12-8), and South Miami outlasted American (17-4). Booker T. and South Miami will play at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the other semifinal.
Burnett averaged a county-best 36.2 points per game last season leading a Carol City squad that was quicker and more guard-oriented.
The Chiefs’ lineup, all measuring 6-3 or taller, has relied on its size advantage to find offense this season.
Carol City, the No. 1 seed in District 13-8A, pulled away from Columbus (17-7) led by 6-9 center Rashad Thompkins, who finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Devonte McKennie finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and seven assists and Marquill Smith had 10 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
“Having that kind of size alone has made a big difference,” Robinson said. “Rashad has the ability to do a little bit of everything for us down low.”
• Carol City 55, Columbus 45 – COL (17-7): Melendez 5, Cortina 2, Minervino 16, Rodriguez 3, Rico 7, Vanzant 2, Durant 6, Sawyer 1, Halfaker 3. CC (19-4): White 4, Smith 10, McKennie 10, Williams 2, Allen 4, Jackson 3, Thompkins 22. Half: CC 22-20. Three-pointers: Melendez, Minervino 2, Rico, Durant 2. Rebounds: Thompkins 11. Assists: McKennie 7. Blocks: Thompkins 3.
• GMAC quarterfinal - Norland 55, Coral Reef 32: The Vikings played at an up-tempo pace often turning turnovers into fast-break points. But that wasn’t as impressive as their defense against a dynamic Barracudas’ team led by their pair of Division I signees, Cedric Hankerson (Boston University) and Brian Glasford (Stetson).
Norland held the duo to a combined 19 points, allowing it to build a lead as large as 30 points in the second half. Larry McKnight led the effort with 15 points and a game-high five steals.
Tyrell Williams dominated in the paint with 11 rebounds and two blocks to go along with 10 points.
“It was definitely a great defensive effort to hold two good guards like that in check,” Norland coach Lawton Williams III said. “Those are Division I guys and we did a great job slowing them down.”