Jacksonville Providence — USA Today No. 27, Class 3A No. 1 and winners of 20 of its past 21 games entering the Class 3A state final four — was poised for a second consecutive state title coronation until Sagemont happened.
The Lions put the clamps on Duke-bound guard Grayson Allen in a defensive performance that left the Lakeland Center in stunned silence and upset Providence 78-59 in the state semifinals Tuesday.
“We came out and played a near perfect game,” Sagemont coach Adam Ross said. “We made a couple mistakes here and there, but against a quality team like that, it's going to happen. But our guys really understood what we were trying to do defensively as a game plan and came out and executed it at an unbelievably high level. We made some shots, which didn’t hurt either.”
After shoving Providence out of the drivers’ seat, Sagemont (33-0) appears a lock to win its second state title when it faces Tampa Prep in the 3A state championship game Wednesday. Tampa Prep defeated St. Petersburg Shorecrest Prep 64-59 in the other semifinal.
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The Lions also are seeking to become the first state champion from Broward County to finish undefeated.
Sagemont’s Prince Ali, a prized 6-4 Connecticut recruit, handily won the head-to-head showdown against Allen with a game-high 22 points, including 11 of 11 from the free-throw line. Sagemont’s Joe Kirby also had 22 points.
Fans finally got the one-on-one matchup they came to see when Ali exploded past Allen for a layup with 30.2 seconds left in the first quarter while being fouled by Allen. Ali completed the three-point play and A.J. Jurko (10 points) beat the first-quarter buzzer to give the Lions a 28-14 lead.
Lance Crawford set the tonewith his ball pressure and helped the Lions get off to a 10-of-16 start from the field. Ross said Crawford, who finished with 16 points, has been the unsung hero for the Lions, now one victory away from making history.
“Lance is tough as nails,’’ Ross said. “He accepts every defensive assignment with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, which makes him really good. He is able to control the tempo on the floor both offensively and defensively. Very few guys at this level in the state final four, against very good competition in high school basketball can do that as effectively. “
Kirby had his own buzzer beater at the end of the second quarter and then skipped to the Sagemont bench where he was mobbed by teammates and coaches as the Lions jogged into the locker room with a commanding 42-30 halftime lead.
Allen opened the game with a three-pointer — an ominous sign for Sagemont — but ultimately struggled against a suffocating 2-3 zone that gave the five-star recruit no room to operate. He finished 3 of 11 from the field and fouled out with 1:19 left and Sagemont leading 77-57.
“As far as defensively goes, in that 2-3 zone they are in, they always had a guy shadow on my side,’’ Allen said. “Every time I switched sides, that bottom guy would not switch sides. He would stay up on me. I think I just had a poor shooting night. I can’t put it all on that. I have to give their defense some credit.”
The closest Providence would get in the second half was seven points, 42-35, after Christian Terrell hit a three-pointer with 7:04 left in the third quarter.
Ali, however, quieted the Stallions for good with back-to-back dunks, the second of the tomahawk variety coming off the baseline, to spark a 13-4 run to close the third quarter.
CLASS 3A State Semifinals: Sagemont 78, Providence 59: Sag (33-0): Ali 22, Kirby 22, Crawford 16, Goloman 8, Jurko 10. Prov (28-5): Allen 9, Terrell 16, Griffin 18, Walker 10, Morris 6. Half: Sagemont 42-30. Three-pointers: Kirby 4, Crawford 1, Ali 1, Allen 1, Terrell 3, Morris 1. Rebounds: Ali 7. Assists: Crawford 3. Steals: Kirby, Crawford 2.