LAKELAND -- Already in full jubilation mode with 2:42 left in Pompano Beach Blanche Ely’s Class 7A state semifinal matchup against Bartow, Tigers fans beckoned for one last icing-on-the-cake play before exiting The Lakeland Center.
Tigers guard Lance Tejada III obliged by throwing an alley-oop dunk off the backboard to 6-8 Khalil Thomas as the reigning state champion and Max Preps No. 12 Tigers rolled over the Yellow Jackets 71-52 Friday.
Tejada and Dallas Cameron, half of the Tigers’ dynamic four-guard lineup, played the biggest role in putting the Tigers (26-1) in Saturday’s state championship game against Orlando Maynard Evans, and granting coach Melvin Randall the ideal 50th birthday gift.
Tejada finished with a game-high 24 points and five steals, and Cameron added 17 points and four assists.
“Dallas is a great player to play with,” Tejada said. “He will get the job done. It doesn’t matter what you need from him, he is a winner. It complements me very well to know I have somebody on my side that is willing to do whatever it takes, like myself.”
With Thomas saddled with foul trouble, 6-6 Therrell Gossier provided a spark off the bench by limiting the Yellow Jackets’ star 6-9 forward Christopher Perry to 14 points while adding five points, eight rebounds and a game-high four blocks.
Bartow (27-4) took the action to Ely in the first quarter before Tejada fueled a 15-4 second-quarter run with 12 points and Cameron spearheaded a defense that forced 23 turnovers.
“I think as a team we played very well,” said Randall, who is seeking his fifth state title. “I truly believe it was leadership. Not to take anything away from my bigs, but I think my guards really stepped up and controlled the tempo of the game.”
Gossier threw down a two-handed dunk off two nifty touch passes from Tejada, and Cameron added a putback during the spurt.
Tejada knocked down two shots on the step-back variety, including a three-pointer to extend the Ely lead to 29-18 with 3:58 left in the second quarter.
Bartow (27-4): Odom 5, Perry 14, Brooks 8, Jones 10, Williams 5, West 2, Childs 5, Graham 3. Ely (26-1): Tejada 24, Thomas 13, Cameron 17, Allen 5, Lee 7, Gossier 5. Half: Ely 35-23. Three-pointers: Jones, Childs, Tejada 2, Cameron 3. Rebounds: Gossier 8. Assists: Cameron 4. Steals: Tejada 5.