Many confident players ask for the basketball in crunch time.
But few are willing to request the game’s key defensive assignment especially when it means going up against an All-American.
Jordan Wright was up to the task Friday night.
Wright, Dillard’s 6-5 junior guard, exemplified his team’s fearlessness as the Panthers brought Miami Norland’s four-year run as state champions to an abrupt halt with a 59-47 home win in the Region 4-6A final.
Wright finished with a game-high 19 points and did an effective job defensively frustrating Norland All-American Dewan Huell and limiting him just enough for his team to prevail and advance to state for the first time since 2008 when it won the most recent of the school’s five state championships.
“I told coach from the get-go that I wanted Dewan and I didn’t care that he was an All-American,” Wright said. “Dewan’s my boy, but I was trying to get to Lakeland.”
Dillard (26-5) will play Deltona in a Class 6A state semifinal next Friday at 4 p.m. at The Lakeland Center. With a starting lineup comprised of four juniors and a sophomore, the Panthers are hoping the victory could symbolize a shift in the balance of power in their classification.
“We’ve been hungry and getting better all year and we knew what we needed to do get this done,” said longtime Dillard coach Darryl Burrows, who has guided the Panthers to all five of their state titles. “Our girls program is there almost every year, but our boys have been working hard and it’s great to finally make it happen.”
Huell, a McDonald’s All-American and University of Miami signee, managed a team-high 18 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
But it wasn’t enough to prevent the Vikings (21-5) from missing out on a trip to Lakeland for the first time since 2011.
Dillard established its presence in the paint in the second quarter during a 13-0 run in which it took a commanding lead and never relinquished it.
During that sequence, the Panthers scored in the paint and drew a foul, converting the ensuing free throw on three consecutive possessions. Robert Johnson, a 6-8 junior, converted the first and Wright followed up with the next two.
Both Wright and Burrows agreed it was a turning point early in the game.
“For our defense that was the key moment in the game,” Burrows said. “They were probably expecting us to play some zone, but we had set our minds on playing a lot of man-to-man defense which is something we work on.”
Dillard led by as many as 16 points with 4:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Panthers led by 14 midway through the third before Norland seemed to swing the momentum in its favor with a 10-2 surge of its own sparked by a pair of three-pointers from David Jean-Baptiste.
But Dillard didn’t let the Vikings get any closer than seven points as its transition defense and ability to answer at the other end allowed it to keep control. Stanley Garner played a big part in the effort hitting two big three-pointers off the bench to finish with 10 points.
DIL (26-5): Wright 19, Oliver 2, Farquarson 8, Garner 10, Sellars 4, Johnson 5, Gray 9, Gadson 2. NOR (21-5): Jean-Baptiste 10, Andre 6, Waite 8, Huell 18, Jones 4, Foster 1. Fouled out: Oliver. Three-pointers: Garner 2, Jean-Baptiste 2, Andre, Waite, Farquarson, Gray. Rebounds: Huell 12.
▪ Region 4-8A final — South Miami 74, Flanagan 72 (OT): Three times this postseason the Cobras (22-8) had a regional game go into overtime, and for the third time they survived and advanced on the road.
Ezacuras Dawson was fouled off a steal with 5.8 seconds remaining, went to the line and knocked down both free throws for the decisive advantage in the extra period on Friday night at Flanagan.
“[I was] just focused,” said Dawson, who finished with a game-high 22 points and five assists. “I wasn’t thinking about anything but knocking down those shots.”
George Allen, who scored 22 of his own for the Falcons (12-11), had his three-point attempt at the buzzer fall well short as Flanagan finished one game shy of their first state semifinal.
Dawson missed a deep three at the end of regulation after Dexter Jeanty missed a pair of free throws that could’ve won it for Flanagan before overtime. Dyllon Lester hit a floater in the lane with 26 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 62 and send it into overtime.
The Cobras made it three state appearances in four years with the win after falling in regional finals last season. Early in the year their chances were dealt a major blow with the loss off four-star junior power forward Ladarian Glover to an ACL tear, but they overcame it.
“They kept fighting through adversity and just kept playing,” South Miami coach Robert Doctor said. “Good group of kids. I’m excited for them.”
South Miami will face a tall task against Sarasota Riverview, the Source Hoops top-ranked team in Class 8A, on Friday at the Lakeland Center.
Miguel Arnold knocked down four three-pointers and scored 20 points for the Cobras while 6-8 center Keith Stewart was the interior presence with 11 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.
Shaun Wingfield scored 14 for Flanagan, most of them in a third quarter the Falcons won 28-16 to come back after trailing by double figures in the first half. Jeanty added 12 points and Lester 11.
SM: Dawson 22, Stewart 11, Arnold 20, Castro 2, Ferguson 4, Wright 8, Davis 8. FLA: Jean-Baptiste 9, Allen 22, Germain 4, Lester 11, Jeanty 12, Wingfield 14. Half: SM 30-21. Three-pointers: Arnold 4, Allen 3, Davis 2, Dawson, Jean-Baptiste, Jeanty. Rebounds: Stewart 14. Assists: Dawson 5. Steals: Allen 5. Blocks: Stewart 5.
▪ Region 4-7A final — Blanche Ely 73, McArthur 49: Watching the Blanche Ely basketball team on Friday night, one would’ve never known how terribly the Tigers struggled during the regular season.
Despite three state titles in the last four seasons including last year, Ely limped through a 12-loss regular season and lost its district final to St. Thomas Aquinas.
But none of that mattered on Friday as the Tigers traveled to McArthur High School in Hollywood and had absolutely no trouble dispatching the Mustangs 73-49 in a Region 4-7A final. Ely will now head back to a very familiar place, Lakeland for a state semifinal matchup with Melbourne on Feb. 26 marking the Tigers 13th trip to the state final four and fourth in the last five years.
“It’s definitely been an up and down season for sure but I think the kids started peaking at the right time,” said Ely head coach Melvin Randall whose team played just three home games all season and a number of difficult out-of-town tournaments against tough competiton. “Perhaps the schedule I presented to them had something to do with it as we took some beatings along the way and played most of our games on the road but ultimately I think that’s what kind of prepared our kids for this run at the right time.”
Ely (20-13) jumped out to a quick 14-4 lead before the Mustangs put their only run of night together, a 14-3 spurt to take an 18-17 lead. But that would be their only lead of the night as the Tigers went on a 15-3 run to go up by 11 and led by double digits the rest of the way.
“We always felt like we had it in us to come together, we just had to work hard, stay the course and come together as team,” said Ely senior Trevor Goodrum who enjoyed a huge night with 24 points and 10 boards. “It got a little discouraging for us at one point but we’re a family here and families stick together when times are tough and that’s what we did.”
McArthur, which was looking for a return trip to Lakeland after making its first-ever appearance last year, finished 21-10 and was led by Nate Johnson with 21 points.
ELY: Goodrum 24, Forrest 16, Stampley 10, Smith 9, Taylor 7, Houston 6 . MCA: Johson 21, Brown 11, Belvin 6, Millwood 5, Labastille 4, Escobar 2; 3 pointers: Forrest (3), Smith, Goodrum, Johnson. HALF: Ely 35-23
▪ Region 4-5A final — Kissimmee-Poinciana 62, Coconut Creek 55: It looked like host Coconut Creek was on the way to state for the first time since 2002, but the Cougars (18-10) were outscored 13-1 by Kissimmee-Poinciana late in the game Friday night.
“They wanted it a little more than we did,” Coconut Creek coach Ken Stringer said. “We were out of gas at the end of the game and the fatigue showed.”
Coconut Creek led 34-27 at halftime and seemed in control. Mario Antenor scored 11 first half points including back to back three-pointers. The Eagles (26-6) hit four three-pointers in the third quarter to cut the Cougars’ lead to 48-45 going into the fourth.
Rene Alexander hit two fourth quarter threes to increase the Poinciana lead. The first Coconut Creek fourth quarter field goal came with 1:27 left.
Christopher Collins led the Cougars with 13 points and 14 rebounds. Nate Louis led Poinciana with 13 points and seven assists. Poinciana will face Zephyrhills in the state semifinal on Thursday at the Lakeland Center. It will be the first trip to state for the Poinciana boys’ basketball team.
POI: Louis 13, Gill 11, Murat 10, Alexander 10, Edwards 6, Mallard 10, Zabala 2. CC: Johnson 14, Harry 12, Collins 13, Blakely 5, Antenor 11. Three-pointers: Louis 2, Alexander 2, Murat 2, Antenor 2, Gill. Assists: Louis 7. Rebounds: Collins 14. Steals: Louis 4. Half: CC 34-27.
▪ Region 3-8A final — Coral Springs travels to Lakeland after defeating Wellington 85-79 in double overtime.