Blanche Ely secured historic perfection Saturday night.
Despite mounting pressure and spirited efforts by upset-minded opponents, the Tigers took down all challengers this season to secure their first boys’ basketball undefeated season with a 72-60 victory over Kissimmee Osceola in the Class 7A state championship at The Lakeland Center.
Ely’s unblemished campaign was the first by a Broward County public school and second in county history following Weston Sagemont’s undefeated run last season.
Ely (28-0), ranked No. 6 in the nation by USA Today, won its fifth state title overall, third in the past four seasons and fourth since 2007.
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The Tigers are now tied with Fort Lauderdale Dillard for the most state titles by a Broward County school.
“I stated that one word ‘historic’ about this team, and there it is,” Blanche Ely coach Melvin Randall said. “I’m glad the undefeated part is over. You’re going night in and night out with a target on your back, and you question how long you can keep that zero in the loss column.”
Randall secured a piece of coaching history, as well.
With this year’s championship, Randall has six state titles during a career that has spanned 23 seasons and includes 535 victories. In addition to his four championships at Ely, Randall won two in the late 1990s at Deerfield Beach.
“It’s hard even to get one ring, so winning six is a blessing I have accomplished,” Randall said. “I shouldn’t just say ‘I’ when referring to it because I have great assistant coaches that don’t get the glory. We have seven men in that locker room that work extremely hard and are very knowledgeable and have kept me in the position to direct these young men to this point.”
That total gave Randall the most state championships by any coach in Broward County history and tied him with Miami Norland coach Lawton Williams III for the most in state history after Williams won his sixth only hours before.
“I will speak to Coach Williams soon,” Randall said. “He’s a fraternity brother of mine, and it would be the right thing to congratulate him on that accomplishment.”
Following a postseason run in which the Tigers proved themselves prolific at closing out opponents, it was their ferocious start Saturday that helped them hang on for the win.
Ely scored the game’s first seven points and jumped out to a 13-2 lead in the first quarter, later leading by as many as 13. But Osceola (26-6) battled its way back and even took a one-point lead at 39-38 with 4:25 left in the third quarter.
Senior Therrell Gosier Jr., who was a part of Ely’s two state championship teams as a freshman and sophomore, helped the Tigers erase that brief deficit and close the game out with 20 of his 27 points in the second half. He also had eight rebounds.
“I knew these gentlemen were going to fight back because if you watched our game [Friday] we picked it up in the fourth,” Randall said. “We got a little lax so I said a few choice words that I won’t repeat. These guys deserve this [championship] and have worked very hard for it.”
Senior Laquincy Rideau had another balanced effort with 10 points, six assists, six rebounds and five steals, and senior guard Javon Heastie scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half.
Gosier Jr., a University of Kentucky signee for football, was a clutch performer in both state games, also scoring 19 of his 20 points in the second half of Friday’s semifinal win against North Port.
“My mind-set was not to let my brothers down because we worked so hard for this,” Gosier Jr. said. “I had been a part of the other state championships, so we couldn’t let this be a waste of a trip.”
Despite its high national ranking as a team and its potential invitation to the Dick’s Sporting Goods National Invitational in April in New York, Ely didn’t boast the highly ranked individual talent like other top-10 teams around the country.
That didn’t keep the Tigers from winning all their games.
“We build our players to learn how important they are to our team no matter if they are 6-10 or not,” Randall said. “We may not have top-10 or top-100 [nationally ranked] players, but we have players that are top 10 for our system. We let our kids know I believe in them. These guys would run through a wall for me, and I would do the same for them.”
Ely (28-0): Gosier, Jr. 27, Houston 7, Heastie 21, Rideau 10, Taylor 5, Goodrum, Jr. 2. KO (26-6): Vidot 9, Florent 5, Edwards 20, Delvalle 9, Alexander 3, Martinez 10, Fabian 2, Black 2. Half: Ely 38-30. Fouled out: Martinez. Rebounds: Edwards 9. Assists: Rideau 6. Steals: Rideau 5. Blocks: Edwards 4.
STATE BOYS’ BASKETBALL
Class 8A: Wellington vs. Oviedo Hagerty, inc.
Class 7A: Pompano Beach Blanche Ely 72, Kissimmee Osceola 60
Class 6A: Miami Norland 53, Gainesville 46
Class 5A: Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons 74, Tallahassee Rickards 58
Class 4A: Tallahassee Godby 53, West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman 46 (OT)
Class 3A: Jacksonville Providence 66, Weston Sagemont 57
Class 2A: Miami Christian 71, Orlando Agape Christian 44
Class 1A: Chipley 69, Hawthorne 40