LAKELAND – -- Shaquille O’Neal had a courtside seat as Pompano Beach Blanche Ely held off a late charge Saturday to beat Orlando Evans 58-50 and capture its second Class 7A state boys’ basketball championship at the Lakeland Center.
Ely guard Dallas Cameron, the Tournament MVP, scored a team-high 14 points, but it was his four steals, two forced five-second violations and high intensity defense that helped force Trojans 6-5 star guard Courtney Williamson (14 points) into 11 turnovers and turn the momentum of the game.
“No. 11 [Williamson] was the leading scorer of the team so you know me being the defensive player that I am, I always want to accept that challenge,” Cameron said. “I kind of kept him under control in the beginning but as the game carried on, they got on a run. The momentum shifted and he got rolling a little bit, so we had to tighten up on defense, not only me.”
The victory gave Tigers coach Melvin Randall his fifth state title overall and third with the Tigers.
Ely’s fourth state title overall seemed to be a foregone conclusion with the Tigers leading 49-34 going into the fourth quarter. But the Trojans stormed back with a 12-2 run to make the Tigers sweat out their second consecutive state title.
Benly Olizia and Maleek Smith each sank three-pointers, and Smith added two free throws to help the Trojans draw within 51-46 with 2:58 left. In a foul-filled fourth quarter, Lance Tejada III then drained four conseuctive free throws to extend the Tigers’ lead to 58-48 with 24.3 seconds left.
“We tried to make it interesting, that is what that was all about,” deadpanned Randall. “Actually Evans is a well-coached ballclub and they fought hard. I think we got them down by 18 and the intense defense that we play, I think there would have been some teams that really shut down. But they fought and they got it into a real match, but these men stepped it up another notch and came up victorious.”
A night after pouring in a game-high 24 points to beat Bartow in the semifinals, Tejada focused more on ball-handling against the Trojans press and finished with nine points and five assists.
Khalil Thomas bounced back from a foul-plagued state semifinal with 14 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Richard Lee added nine points.
After the loss of five seniors, including 2012 Tournament MVP Clide Geffrard, there were questions about whether the Tigers could become the third Broward team, following Dillard (2000-01) and Pine Crest (2008-09), to win back-to-back titles.
The only debate now is whether the 2012-13 is better than last year’s team.
The transfer of Tejada from Miramar and sharp-shooter Richard Lee from rival Northeast, along with the return of Cameron and Darrion Allen, gave the Tigers arguably the most formidable backcout in the state.
With Thomas a rebounding and shot-blocking force and the emergence of Therrell Gossier as a top sixth man, the Tigers rattled off 17 consecutive wins to secure their state title repeat. The lone loss (72-62) came to St. John Bosco (CA) at the Chick-Fil-A Classic Championship on Dec. 22. During the back-to-back state championship seasons, the Tigers are 57-3.
Evans (20-8): James 4, Atkins 8, Olizia 5, Williamson 14, Owens 2, Smith 10, Blackshear 7.
Ely (27-1): Cameron 14, Thomas 14, Tejada 9, Lee 9, Allen 6, Gossier 6. Half: BE 29-21. Three-pointers: Tejada 1, Cameron 2, Lee 2, Smith 2, Olizia 1. Rebounds: Thomas 8, Allen 6. Assists: Tejada 5, Thomas 4. Steals: Cameron 4. Blocks: Thomas 4.