LAKELAND -- No matter how big the deficit this season, Ransom Everglades always felt confident it had the firepower to come back.
A surge Tuesday night at The Lakeland Center that included nine second-half three-pointers — the last of which star senior guard Sam Singer made to draw even with less than two minutes left — nearly completed another rally against Orlando Lake Highland Prep and its North Carolina-committed star junior guard Joel Berry.
But in the closing moments, Berry helped close out the Raiders with clutch free-throw shooting in a 65-60 defeat in a Class 4A state semifinal.
“The game lived up to the hype and a couple of bounces one way or the other and we’re playing on Thursday,” Ransom coach Claude Grubair said. “This is a team that has had one big run against everybody, and we had an opportunity.”
The typically reliable Singer could not match Berry’s clutch performance late. Singer finished with 15 points and a team-high 11 rebounds but missed a pair of free throws, a layup and a three-pointer in the final three minutes.
With Ransom trailing 61-60 with 33 seconds left, Nicholas Stern stole the ball at halfcourt. The Raiders got the ball to Singer, who missed a layup off the rim with 26 seconds left.
Berry was fouled and made a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 63-60. On the ensuing possession, Singer put up a three-pointer that also bounced off the rim with eight seconds left. Berry grabbed his team-high 11th rebound of the game and hit two more free throws to seal it. He scored eight points down the stretch and finished with a game-high 26 points.
Singer struggled from the field and the foul line throughout. He went 0 for 6 from the foul line for the game and went 6 of 22 from the field, including a 1-for-7 shooting start in the first half.
“I have no excuses, I just didn’t make the shots,” said Singer, who averaged 27.3 points per game this season.
Despite Singer’s struggles, Ransom got clutch performances from Khambrel Roach and Julian Marx, both of whom hit key shots in the second half to erase a 14-point halftime deficit. Marx went 4 of 8 from three-point range and finished with 16 points. Roach went 3 of 7 on threes and finished with 18 points, including 12 in the first half to keep Ransom in it despite a stellar performance by Lake Highland guard Jay Henderson, who finished with 23 points.
Junior center Trey Mourning brought the crowd, and his parents, Alonzo and Tracy, to their feet with a three-pointer with 3:39 left that gave Ransom its first lead since the opening bucket of the game. But Berry answered with a pair of free throws to give the Highlanders the lead back at 56-55. Mourning had 11 points and six blocks.
“We turned things around in the second half and we came out firing and focused,” Mourning said.
“We made it a game and went up by one. Unfortunately, we couldn’t come up with a couple of loose balls and hit a couple of shots, and we came up short at the end.”
Singer missed a pair of free throws that could have given Ransom the lead. Berry drove the lane and scored on the following possession to extend the lead to 58-55. Singer tied the score with 1:55 left with a three. But Henderson then hit an open three to put the Highlanders ahead for good.
“This was a great experience with a game of this caliber and a player of that caliber with the game on the line,” Grubair said. “I couldn’t be prouder of this team and my seniors.”
LHP (23-5): Davis 6, Simpson 4, Dean 6, Berry 26, Henderson 23. RE (29-3): Mourning 11, Singer 15, Roach 18, Marx 16. Half: LHP 34-20. Three-pointers: Henderson 6, Marx 4, Roach 3, Singer 3, Mourning, Berry. Rebounds: Berry, Singer 11. Assists: Simpson 5. Steals: Stern 3. Blocks: Mourning 6.