Taking a page out of the Cameron Crazies playbook, a massive Tampa Jesuit student rooting section, which packed the Lakeland Center lower bowl on Saturday, spent the FHSAA Class 5A state championship pregame warmups trying to rattle American Heritage.
Heritage kept its composure against the stream of chants from a blue-and-white body painted throng, “The Blue Wave” that included one character dressed in a bathroom robe and another in a ninja outfit.
Ultimately, what threw Source Hoops No. 4 Heritage off was a Jesuit three-point barrage led by Jack Fleming which carried the No. 1 Tigers to a 79-58 victory.
“I’m not sure what we could have done,” Patriots second-year coach Charles Stephenson said. “We talked about it. We knew they were three-point shooters. We wanted to close out high hands. But when they are knocking them down? There were a couple when we had our hands up and it was still whack! Whack! Whack!”
Most of the “whacking” was done by Fleming, who set the tone for the Tigers’ torrid 12 of 20 three-point marksmanship from the field with four three-pointers in the first quarter. Fleming finished 6 of 9 from beyond the arc for 20 points while Joey Galvis, the Tournament MVP went 4 of 9, including a dagger three-pointer which turned back an 11-2 Patriots’ run in the third quarter that led to a brief 38-37 Heritage lead.
While Jesuit (31-1) lived by the three-ball, Heritage (21-8) hung around for three quarters by outscoring the Tigers 25-7 at the free throw line. Justin Massey, named the Patriots Final Four MVP, had 19 points, 6-8 center Drake LaMont had 17 points and eight rebounds and Kobe Eubanks added 15 points.
Trailing 35-27 at halftime, the Patriots showed the resolve that got them a return trip to Lakeland without its star point guard Keyshawn Evans.
Eubanks sparked an 11-2 run with a three-pointer and LaMont added a tip in and two free throws with 4:51 let in the third quarter, which gave Heritage it’s first and only lead, 38-37.
“We knew they were shooting real well but we figured at some point they would start missing some shots,” Justin Massey said. “Early in the third quarter, I believe the first two or three minutes they didn’t score and we brought our defense up.”
But Galvis made sure the Patriots’ happy moment was short-lived, sparking a 13-2 run with a three-pointer, a layup and steal which led to a three-point play by Jesuit forward Travis Johnson. Johnson then added a three pointer from the right wing for a 50-40 Jesuit lead with 2:25 the Tigers would not relinquish.