Two-time defending Class 7A state champion Blanche Ely had all but locked up a return trip to the BCAA Big 8 championship game before Cardinal Gibbons’ Jose Morales spoiled the Tigers’ bid for a repeat with a big fourth quarter in the Big 8 semifinals at Fort Lauderdale on Friday.
On the short end of the highly anticipated star point guard matchup against Ely’s Lance Tejada through three quarters, Morales stole the spotlight with 15 of his 16 points in the final quarter, including the game-winning three-point play with 27.8 seconds left, to spark a stunning 64-60 come-from-behind victory.
In the second semifinal, Boyd Anderson (20-4) held off Pines Charter (19-6) 62-58 to earn a shot at Cardinal Gibbons in the Big 8 championship game at 7 p.m. on Satuday. Dondre Duffus scored 20 points to lead the Cobras.
“We just had to keep fighting,” said Morales, who added six assists. “All my guys fought for me in the first half, and I wasn’t producing, so I felt like I had to redeem myself in the end. We let Lance Tejada get too many easy shots, easy looks. Defense was the difference in the fourth quarter. No one else was really scoring for them so we had to key in on one guy.”
Tejada’s game-high 28 points was all the talk of the semifinal until Morales stole the spotlight in dramatic fashion.
Ely, ranked No. 3 in 7A, appeared to be well on its way to a Big 8 finals matchup against Boyd Anderson after Tejada converted two free throws with 3:50 left for a 56-48 Ely lead.
Morales, however, who was outscored 18-1 by Tejada in the first half, fueled a 16-4 blitz that changed the complexion of the game for good.
Morales knocked down a three-pointer with 3:30 left, followed with a jumper from the free throw line to pull the Chiefs (No. 3 in 5A) within 60-59 and then came up with the shot of the game to seal the victory.
After Ely’s Courtney Anderson left the door open with two missed free throws with 42.8 seconds left, Morales made the Tigers pay with a flip shot along the baseline while being fouled by Tejada.
The Chiefs’ bench erupted on the play, and Morales converted the three-point play for a 62-60 lead with 27.8 seconds left.
It was an uncharacteristic meltdown for Ely, which had won the past two Class 7A state championships and three under coach Melvin Randall by showing poise in late-game situations.
Randall was visibly upset following the loss and spared no punches in making his assessment of the miscues that plagued Ely down the stretch.
“A lack of senior leadership,” Randall said. “We had the momentum and then we cracked for whatever reason. Then we started doing our own stuff, and they haven’t figured it out. Lack of leadership. You can put that in bold print.”
Tejada started the game in a zone, scoring the Tigers’ first 10 points and then 13 of the Tigers’ next 19 points to help the Tigers rally from a 19-10 deficit early in the second quarter to forge ahead 28-26 at halftime.
Melvin Brooks had 10 points and 10 rebounds and Stefan Duvivier added 11 points, including three three-pointers, none bigger than the one he converted that drew the Chiefs within 59-57 with 1:58 left.
The Tigers (19-3) got nine points from Javon Heastie, eight points from Joshua Floyd and 11 points from Anderson.
Gibbons’ fate appeared to be sealed after Morales went to the bench after picking up his fourth foul and Ely leading 38-32 with 5:04 left in the third quarter. From that point on, the Tigers’ signature suffocating defense appeared, helping the Tigers open a 45-36 lead with 2:51 left when Tejada went coast to coast for a layup.
Boyd Anderson (No. 2 in 7A) got all it could handle from Class 6A No. 6 Pines Charter, despite the Jaguars losing its star 6-5 swingman Haanif Cheatham to foul trouble when the game was on the line. Rodney Simeon added 17 points for the Cobras which clinged to a 57-55 lead with 48.5 seconds left when Cheatham picked up his fourth foul and then a technical foul, sending him to the bench for good with 18 points. Duffus extended the Cobras lead to 60-55 on three free throws but Jaguars guard Marcel Denbow (15 points) followed a crucial three-point play he converted to tie the game 52-52 with a three-pointer to cut the lead to 60-58 with 24.7 seconds left. The Jaguars went into a full-court press on the ensuing possession forcing the Cobras to burn a timeout after trying to inbound the ball. On the second inbounds attempt, the Cobras got the ball in to Simeon, who was called for a traveling violation, allowing the Jaguars an opportunity to tie the game or go ahead. Ultimately, Pines Charter (15-6) came up short on two good looks at the basket, leading to Boyd Anderson guard Pitchon Pierre (8 points) sealing the victory with a pair of free throws. Cheatham was held to two points in the first half but kept the Jaguars within striking distance by scoring 12 points in the third quarter.
Cardinal Gibbons 64, Blanche Ely 60: CG (12-5) Brooks 10, Duvivier 11, Charles 2, Morales 16, Kacprzak 4, McIntosh 19. Ely (19-3): Tejada 28, Gosier 6, Goodrum 2, Heastie 9, Floyd 8, Anderson 11. Half: Ely 28-26. Three-pointers: Tejada 3, Heastie 1, Charles 1, Duvivier 3, Morales 1, Kacprzak 1. Rebounds: Brooks 10, McIntosh 10. Assists: Morales 6.• Boyd Anderson 62, Pines Charter 58: PPC (19-6): Cheatham 18, Guerrier 1, M. Johnson 10, Harper 9, Montes 2, Denbow 15, Buckley 3. BA (20-4): Simeon 17, Eubanks 7, Duffus 20, I. Pierre 7, P. Pierre 8, R. Johnson 3. Half: 26-26. Three-pointers: M. Johnson 2, Denbow 4, Simeon 1, Duffus 1, I. Pierre 1, P. Pierre 1. R. Johnson 1.