LAKELAND -- Zachary Johnson cut to the basket and drew a foul as he delivered a thunderous dunk that brought Norland’s fans to their feet.
The play provided a highlight in an otherwise business-as-usual performance by the school that has made it a habit of dominating games at the state final four.
Led by 6-7 forward Tyrell Williams’ 16 points, eight blocks and six rebounds, a taller and more physical Norland jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter and cruised to a 68-40 victory over Jacksonville Ed White in a Class 6A state semifinal at The Lakeland Center.
“By this being my third year here [at state], I had the mind-set to be active throughout the game and be a leader both physically and vocally in this game,” Tyrell Williams said.
Norland (26-5) advanced to play Lake Minneola at 1:30 p.m. Saturday for the Class 6A championship.
The Vikings will try to win their fifth state title in the past nine seasons and third in a row.
Only Miami High has ever won as many state titles in such a span, winning five in seven seasons from 1987 to 1993 and five in nine seasons from 1948 to 1956.
If Norland wins, it would become only the third Miami-Dade County school to win three consecutive state titles, joining Miami High (1954-1956 and 1989-1991) and Northwest Christian (2003-2005).
“We just have to finish it off now,” said Norland coach Lawton Williams III, who can tie former Miami High coaches Marcos “Shakey” Rodriguez and Vince Schaeffer for the most state titles among Dade coaches with five. “Each year is different for us, so I don’t really look at new challenges and all that stuff. Our goal each year is to win state.”
Johnson’s jam came early in the fourth quarter shortly after Ed White (25-5) had used a 12-0 surge to cut Norland’s lead to 34-23. It also followed another dunk late in the third quarter from Johnson that helped Norland secure control of the game for good.
Johnson, a Florida Gulf Coast signee, finished with 15 points despite going 3 for 11 from free-throw line, and also had six rebounds and three assists.
“It was a dream moment,” Johnson said. “Coach [Williams] always tells us to get to the open spot and finish it.”
Norland’s size advantage and length created problems for the Commanders from the start as it quickly built a 15-3 lead. Sophomore forward Dewan Huell had nine rebounds to help the Vikings finish with 42 as a team compared with only 28 for Ed White.
Norland’s smothering defense forced eight first-quarter turnovers and limited the Commanders to only 17.4 percent shooting.
The Vikings’ only hiccup came in a subpar third quarter in which they committed seven turnovers of their own and White hit three-pointers on three consecutive possessions.
But after Norland swung the momentum back in its favor, it restored its lead to 20 points as it was at halftime.
“We wanted to impose our will early, and we did,” said Williams, whose teams improved to 9-0 at state during that span. “We didn’t want to let them speed us up and turn this into a running contest.”
NOR (26-5): Johnson 15, Roberts 10, Johnson 3, Huell 5, T. Williams 16, McKnight 3, Mike 2, Jean-Baptiste 8, McDaniel 3, Barbary 3. EW (25-5): McNeil 7, D. Williams 7, Russell 2, Storey 4, Leggett 7, Brister 4, Holland 3, Gilchrist 6. Half: NOR 31-11. Technical: Huell. Fouled out: D. Williams, Storey. Rebounds: Huell 9. Assists: Johnson, Roberts 3. Steals: Huell, McKnight 3. Blocks: T. Williams 8.