LAKELAND -- The Norland boys’ basketball dynasty appeared to be in jeopardy briefly Saturday afternoon at The Lakeland Center.
But just as they often have over the past nine seasons, the Vikings showed their resolve with a second-half comeback that assured them an even more exclusive place among Miami-Dade County’s all-time best programs.
Led by senior guard Zachary Johnson’s 19 points and nine rebounds and senior forward Tyrell Williams’ 16 rebounds, 11 points and five blocks, Norland erased a late seven-point deficit to beat Lake Minneola 60-44 and win the Class 6A state championship for the third consecutive season.
With its fans chanting “three-peat” in the closing seconds, Norland (27-5) became only the third Miami-Dade County team to win three titles in a row, joining Miami High and Northwest Christian.
Norland also matched Miami High as the only county schools to win five state championships in a span of nine years or less. The Vikings moved into a tie with Monsignor Pace for second on the all-time list of most state championships won by a Dade team.
“I don’t know how hard anyone else works, but I know how much we do,” said Norland coach Lawton Williams III, who has guided the Vikings to all five state titles. “Mental toughness is built outside in the spring and summer conditioning when they’re running in the 95-degree heat. Games like these are where that work comes into play.”
Williams assured himself an exclusive place among the state’s boys’ basketball coaches, becoming the first to win five state titles without losing a game at the state final four as Norland improved to 10-0 at state since 2006.
And Williams moved into a tie with former Miami High coaches Marcos “Shakey“ Rodriguez and Vince Schaeffer for the most state titles among Dade coaches.
“It really hasn’t sunk in because if you wouldn’t tell me about the records, I wouldn’t know much about it,” Williams said. “I coach for the kids and I’m happy two of my seniors will go out with three [state championship] rings.”
It took Norland’s veteran group drawing from its experience of the past three seasons largely in the second half after falling behind 32-25 late in the third quarter.
Sparked by seven consecutive points by Johnson, a Florida Gulf Coast University signee, Norland used a 14-2 surge to take the lead for good.
Johnson earned Class 6A tournament MVP honors.
Reserve guard Larry McKnight also made clutch contributions off the bench in the fourth quarter, scoring eight of his 13 points and finishing with three assists.
“We just decided not to get out of character,” Johnson said. “We stepped up and Larry stepped up and made some big plays.”
Lake Minneola (28-4), which finished its third varsity season, tried imposing its up-tempo pace upon Norland and was successful for over a half as Norland continually settled for long-range jumpers and turned the ball over resulting in transition baskets.
“We came out executing the game plan we wanted, but we hit a dry spell without scoring in the second half,” Lake Minneola coach Freddie Cole said. “That was a definite momentum shift. You can’t go that long without scoring against a team like Norland.”
Once the Vikings did slow their opponent, largely behind their frontcourt of Dewan Huell (10 points) and Tyrell Williams — who made a couple of key blocks down the stretch — they played at a pace that was more to their liking and drove to the basket for easy layups using its size advantage.
“It was pivotal that we control tempo,” Williams said. “We let them get out and run. That’s not our game and we had to be mentally tough enough to control the tempo and I think we did that."
NOR (27-5): Z. Johnson 19, D. Roberts 2, D. Johnson 5, Huell 10, Williams 11, McKnight 13. LM (28-4): An. Brown 8, Av. Brown 16, Holder, Jr. 4, Dodson 4, Weech 6, Mendoza 6. Half: LM 26-22. Fouled out: Weech. Three-pointers: Mendoza 2, McKnight. Rebounds: Williams 16. Assists: An. Brown 4. Steals: An. Brown 2. Blocks: Williams 5.