Sagemont coach Adam Ross said he felt like his team got hit by a tornado Tuesday night.
Sagemont has learned to weather such “storms” over the years.
Sarasota Cardinal Mooney, a team making its final-four debut Tuesday, looked like veterans at The Lakeland Center, raining five three-pointers in the first quarter to initially stun the defending state champion Lions.
But led by senior guard Keyshawn Evans’ own sharpshooting, the Lions overcame the early deficit, took the lead by halftime and never let go on their way to a 65-52 win over Cardinal Mooney in a Class 3A state semifinal.
“Cardinal Mooney is a well-disciplined, great shooting team, and we played less than perfect defense to say the least,” Ross said. “They made a lot of shots at a high level, but we hung in there and made enough plays to win and at this point in the season, that’s what it’s all about.”
Sagemont (29-3), which is making its fifth appearance at state in the past six seasons and sixth in the past eight, will try to win its second consecutive state title when it plays Jacksonville Providence in the Class 3A final Thursday morning at 9:30.
“The seniors on this team in general have been [at state] so much,” Evans said. “I’ve been here four times, our other two seniors twice and coach more than any of us. They shot like 90 percent from three in the first quarter, but we knew they couldn’t keep shooting that well the whole game. We just had to make it harder for them shooting.”
Evans finished with 28 points, including 21 in the first half on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. The performance countered the torrid shooting by the Cougars (27-4), who made 9 of 20 shots from three-point range, led by Louisville signee Ryan McMahon (16 points).
But once Cardinal Mooney cooled off from long distance in the second half, it couldn’t contain Sagemont’s athleticism and size in the paint.
Sagemont star guard and UCLA signee Prince Ali didn’t have one of his best offensive games with 13 points. But Ali had four blocks to chip in on the defensive end and finished with nine rebounds.
“We weren’t too surprised they were shooting the way they did,” Ali said. “We just had to close out on shooters better and play better defense.”
Junior forward Dwayne Frazier finished with a game-high 16 rebounds and added 11 points. Sagemont outrebounded Cardinal Mooney 40-20 overall and 15-4 in offensive rebounds.
SAGE (29-3): Polley 10, Evans 28, Jurko 3, Ali 13, Frazier 11. CM (27-4): Arimura 4, Rao 14, Najmy 6, McMahon 16, Perry 5, Peacock 6, Grauel 1. Half: SAGE 36-29. Fouled out: Najmy. Three-pointers: Rao 4, McMahon 3, Najmy 2, Evans 3, Ali. Rebounds: Frazier 16. Assists: Perry 6. Steals: Jurko 2. Blocks: Ali 4.
State boys’ basketball
When: Through Saturday.
Where: The Lakeland Center, 701 W. Lime St., Lakeland.
Admission: $10 per session. Parking: $8.
Tuesday’s results — Class 1A semifinals: Chipley 85, Malone 66; Hawthorne 57, Crescent City 40; Class 2A semifinals: Orlando Agape Christian 57, Land O’Lakes Academy at the Lakes 36; Miami Christian 95, Sarasota Christian 70; Class 3A semifinals: Jacksonville Providence 60, Orlando First Academy 52; Sagemont 65, Sarasota Cardinal Mooney 53.
Wednesday’s schedule — Class 4A semifinals: West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman vs. Fort Myers Dunbar, 9:30 a.m.; Tallahassee Godby vs. Melbourne Holy Trinity, 11 a.m.; Class 1A final: Chipley vs. Hawthorne, 5:05; Class 2A final: Miami Christian vs. Orlando Agape Christian, 8:35.
Thursday’s schedule — Class 3A final: Sagemont vs. Jacksonville Providence, 9:30 a.m.; Class 4A final: 1:05; Class 8A semifinals: Oviedo Hagerty vs. St. Petersburg, 7; Hollywood McArthur vs. Wellington, 8:30.