Plantation American Heritage dismissed any and all questions about its supposed inability to win the big one by doing just that in record-setting fashion at The Lakeland Center on Saturday.
Behind a return-to-star-status, 25-point performance by Keyshawn Evans, Heritage washed away all the frustration and ridicule of losing in the state final four the past two seasons by rolling up a boys’ basketball state finals record output in overwhelming St. Petersburg Lakewood 98-70 in the Class 5A state championship game.
The state-title runaway, built on a torrid fast-break attack, was a carryover from Friday when the Patriots beat Panama City Rutherford 74-47 in the semifinals.
“We shot 75 percent in first half,” Heritage third-year coach Charles Stephenson said. “But when you are running out the way we did, and I’ve always told them, it’s Showtime, Showtime Heritage. The Lakers were my favorite team when I was young with Magic [Johnson], and I love it.”
With the outcome long decided and Heritage fans whooping it up in the stands, Heritage’s starting five huddled together to count down the final seconds in unison and then stormed the court to celebrate its history-making mission.
Cameras clicked away as the Patriots started an impromptu shoulder-to-shoulder dance and and then dove on the floor while holding up index fingers to indicate they were finally No. 1.
The biggest star of this show was Evans, the tournament MVP. After missing the 2012-13 postseason with a knee injury, the junior gave a not-so-subtle reminder of the explosiveness that made him a highly touted freshman with 19 of his team-high 25 points in the pivotal first half.
“I knew on Friday I didn’t play well,” Evans said. “I had four fouls most of the game. So really when I came out, I was feeling well in warmups. I just kept playing to see how it played out and I ended up having a breakout game, I guess.”
Lakewood star guard Jacobi Boykins took it upon himself to help the Spartans avoid the embarrassment of the margin ballooning to 35 points and the onset of a running clock by scoring a game-high 28 points.
As for defending Evans, Boykins said Evans was not even on the Lakewood scouting report — an oversight that cost the Spartans dearly.
Evans was in attack mode from the onset, banking in a shot while being fouled on the first possession and then draining back-to-back three-pointers for 11 of the Patriots’ first 23 points to stake the team to a 28-17 lead in the first quarter.
Evans went 4 of 4 in the spurt to help the Patriots shoot 73 percent from the field in the first quarter.
After enduring the embarrassment of returning home from the state final four two consecutive seasons empty-handed, it was time for the Patriots to return the favor.
“Coming into the game, we had enough confidence in ourselves to know if we wanted to, we could win easily,” Heritage 6-10 center Drake Lamont said. “We could make it a blowout if we ran. If we defended. So you know, it’s kind of an awesome feeling to know that what happened to us the past two seasons we were able to do this year. It was a lot of fun.”
Justin Massey had 17 points and seven assists and his twin brother, Jason, added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Patriots. Lamont added 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Josh Borders provided a spark off the bench with 13 points and Hunter Osceola, a key transfer, added eight points and three steals.
The Patriots’ title run featured a lot of moving parts falling perfectly in place. Borders, who stepped in for Evans last season and helped lead the Patriots to the final four, returned to the bench, giving the Patriots’ second unit some added punch.
The Massey twins both had career seasons, offsetting the loss of 6-5 Kobe Eubanks, a top 100 prospect. Osceola’s transfer gave the Patriots yet another weapon to go to in crunch time. And of course, Evans’ best game since returning from injury finally pushed Heritage over the top.