It took eight extra minutes, but Ely got it done.
Defending Class 7A champions Blanche Ely punched its ticket back to Lakeland with an 85-79 double-overtime victory over visiting Palm Beach Lakes Saturday night in the region 4-7A final.
The Tigers (25-1) will face Bartow in the Class 7A state semifinals next week at the Lakeland Center.
Tied at 63 at the end of regulation and tied at 71 at the end of the first overtime, Ely’s relentless pressure and surprisingly spry effort during the second extra period appeared to wear on Palm Beach Lakes in the second overtime. The Tigers scored first and opened up an 82-73 lead with just under two minutes to play after a Darrion Allen breakaway dunk.
That lead, which was the largest that any team held Saturday, was enough for Ely to completely stave off the Rams.
Richard Lee led the Tigers in scoring with 22 points. But Lee did most of his damage in the first half — having 16 points in the first 16 minutes while shooting 4-of-6 from three-point range — it was backcourt mates Lance Tejada and Dallas Cameron who came up big late.
Tejada finished with 19 points and five assists, with 17 of his points coming after the first half. Cameron ended up with 20 points. Allen added eight points and four assists.
Tigers head coach Melvin Randall, who remained relatively calm while the near capacity crowd was in a frenzy for much of the second half, tried to put the game into perspective.
“It was a spectators game. I’m speechless right now,” Randall said. “It was a hard fought game and I am glad that we came out on top. I knew it was going to be hard. [Palm Beach Lakes] really came to play. I’m just really glad that we won.
“I’m happy to be going to back to Lakeland,” he said with a relieved smile.
Blanche Ely trailed 63-58 with just over two minutes to play in the fourth quarter, but the Tigers didn’t allow their dominant season to come to an end. Ely manufactured five points in the final two minutes to force the first overtime.
While Ely made its late comeback, Palm Beach Lakes (22-4) tried to take time off the clock and protect its narrow lead, but wound up going through a four-minute scoring drought that spanned through the end of regulation and the first two minutes of the first overtime period.
Khalil Thomas finished with 16 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks.
“We didn’t come out like I felt we were supposed to,” Thomas said. “But [Palm Beach Lakes] came ready to play and we just did what he had to do to win – simple as that.”
The Rams led throughout much of the first half. Leading by four at the end of one and by two at halftime after Kamil Williams sank a three-pointer at the buzzer to give his team a 34-32 lead.
PBL (22-4): Caines 20, St. Fort 20, Rideau 14, Williams 8, Cole 7, Coleman 6, Gates 4. ELY (25-1): Lee 22, Cameron 20, Tejada 19, Thomas 16, Allen 8. Halftime: PBL 34-32. Three-pointers: Lee 5, St. Fort 4, Tejada 3, Cameron 2, Coleman, Williams, Rideau, Cole. Rebounds: Thomas 17. Assists: Tejada 5. Steals: Lee 4. Blocks: Thomas 5.
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