LAKELAND -- South Miami coach Robert Doctor’s wish is for his boys’ basketball team to leave The Lakeland Center after this weekend with no regrets.
“I have regrets from the last game I played here, including one play I remember,” said Doctor, who played for South Miami’s 1996 state runner-up team and was an assistant coach on the 2004 runner-up team. “We were up by four and I stole the ball and went on a fast break. I went up to dunk it and missed. [Miami High] turned around and scored and it changed the momentum and we never recovered.
“I’ve told these guys to leave everything on the floor, play hard and you won’t have any regrets.”
Doctor and South Miami earned a third chance to win the school’s elusive state championship Friday by beating state first-timer Tampa Wharton 46-38 in a Class 8A state semifinal at The Lakeland Center.
The Cobras (28-3) won their 18th consecutive game and will face Oviedo Hagerty (23-5) Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. Hagerty beat Deerfield Beach on Friday night on a buzzer-beater in the other semifinal.
South Miami improved to 3-0 all-time in state semifinals.
The Cobras dominated in the paint throughout the majority of the game on both the offensive and defensive ends thanks largely to senior center Antravious Simmons’ game-high 16 points and 15 rebounds.
Their defensive effort helped them overcome a slow start in which they fell behind 11-2 over the first five minutes of the game. South Miami outscored Wharton 38-9 from that point until the 2:12 mark of the third quarter building a 40-20 lead.
Senior point guard Jorge Perez-Laham had seven points and four timely assists, while Joseph Lopez finished with 11 points and six rebounds. John Cratit and Michael Blanco each had six points.
“We came out a little sluggish and a little nervous, so I took Jorge out and talked to him and then he started controlling the tempo,” Doctor said. “Late in the game, I think we thought we had it won already, but we used our tactic of holding the ball and milking some clock. We pulled through at the end.”
South Miami held Wharton (25-5) without a field goal in the second quarter and to only two points in the period. Wharton guard C.J. McGill’s three-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer was the last shot the Wildcats made until his jumper with 5:45 remaining in the third.
In the fourth quarter, Wharton cut South Miami’s lead to six with 43 seconds left. But choosing not to foul, South Miami broke through Wharton’s full-court pressure and Perez-Laham found Simmons for an easy layup to put the game out of reach.
“I think we got too excited and we needed to just take a minute and calm down,” Perez-Laham said. “We slowed things down and made stops on defense and turned them into easy layups.”
WH (25-5): Litton 4, Reynolds 8, McGill 7, Grier 13, Langston 2, Vanderbrook 4. SM (28-3): Lopez 11, Simmons 16, Perez-Laham 7, Cratit 6, Blanco 6. Half: SM 27-18. Three-pointers: McGill, Grier 2, Blanco 2. Rebounds: Simmons 15. Assists: Perez-Laham and McGill 4. Steals: Litton and Reynolds 3.