It had been a while since Dillard’s boys basketball team had been playing at The Lakeland Center.
So it took most of the game for the Panthers to find their rhythm against Deltona.
Although not their most aesthetically pleasing victory of the season, Dillard led for most of its 56-44 triumph over Deltona and, more importantly, put itself one step closer to a state championship.
“Our team came out a little nervous, but at the half I told our guys we needed to pick it up,” junior forward Jordan Wright said. “[On Saturday] we’re coming out to take home a championship.”
The Panthers (27-5) will play Largo in the Class 6A final at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
At stake for Dillard is its first state championship since 2008.
It would be the Panthers’ sixth overall, which would allow them to either surpass or remain tied with Blanche Ely for the most in Broward County history. Ely plays for its own potential sixth championship Saturday as well, in Class 7A.
During an eight-year drought for the boys’ program in which the girls’ team won five state titles, veteran Dillard coach Darryl Burrows expressed how special it was to be back in Lakeland.
“This team hadn’t been here in a while so this was a new experience for these kids and hopefully we’ll play a better game [Saturday],” Burrows said. “It’s good to be back. Our girls have been here the last few years. We’ve been playing well, but just not good enough to get back here so hopefully we make the best of this opportunity.”
Wright finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds and fellow junior forward Raiquan Gray posted 13 points and 12 rebounds as Dillard tried using its size to overwhelm Deltona (22-9) inside as it had many teams this season.
The Panthers were successful at times, but didn’t put the game away until midway through the fourth quarter when Deltona forwards Blake Hinson and Danny Marquez fouled out.
“We knew once they fouled out we could move the ball inside and pound them,” Wright said. “But we have to take better shots.”
Dillard shot only 37.3 percent from the field for the game and went 3 for 16 from three-point range. Senior guard Dijon Farquharson gave the Panthers just enough in that department by totaling 11 points.
“We knew we’d have an advantage on the glass and be able to run a little bit,” Burrows said. “But we didn’t take advantage of it enough. We have to make sure not to turn the ball over, and play better defense.”
DIL (27-5): Wright 19, Gray 13, Farquharson 11, Oliver 6, Johnson 4, Gadson 2, Garner 1.
DEL (22-9): E. Hinson 10, Monroe 9, B. Hinson 9, Smith 8, Lane 5, Douglas 3.
Half: DIL 28-21. Fouled out: B. Hinson, Marquez. Rebounds: Gray 12. Assists: Oliver 3, Gray 3, Farquharson 3. Steals: Wright 2.