After playing two days of nearly flawless basketball, the North Miami boys basketball team finally found a hurdle it couldn’t conquer: The hot shooting Gaels of St. Maria Goretti.
That following a 84-72 loss to the team from Hagerstown, Maryland in the boys championship final of the 24th Annual Junior Orange Bowl Basketball Classic on Saturday night at Palmetto High School.
Making only their second appearance in the title game (North Miami won the event in 1999), the Pioneers fell victim to a Goretti team, which plays out of the Baltimore Catholic League and is ranked No. 10 in the state, that shot the lights out of the gym in the first half (57 percent from the floor, 6-of-12 from beyond the arc) and early in the second half. That allowed them to build a lead which ballooned to as much as 23 (51-28) midway through the third quarter.
It was only then that the Pioneers led by Richard Charles began to get hot from the floor and battle their way back.
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On his way to a 30-point night, Charles started draining some NBA sized three pointers as North Miami cut the Goretti lead all the way down to six, 69-63, with 3:31 left.
But Goretti’s R.J. Blakney offset Charles’ red hot performance with a 30-point night of his own and rattled off his own personal 7-0 run to push the lead back to 76-63 and end the issue.
“I did what I could to try and carry my team on my back and shoot us back in the game but we just dug ourselves too big of a hole to climb out of,” said Charles who is getting interest from schools like FIU, Lynn University and Barry. “We kept on fighting but just ran out of time. Making it to the finals of this tournament is still a plus for us though and gives us confidence moving forward.”
The Pioneers (8-4) blew out Schoolhouse Prep in a first-round game on Thursday and then knocked off South Miami (65-60) in a Friday semifinal to make the championship game.
“We came out stagnant and cold at the start and that really cost us,” said North Miami coach Ray Benoit. “You just can’t afford to fall behind a team as good as that and expect to win. I was proud of the kids for not quitting and continuing to battle.”
GIRLS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Putnam City West (Oklahoma) 69, Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.) 64, 2 OTs: The long trip from Oklahoma City proved to be well worthwhile for Putnam City West as the Patriots won a double overtime thriller to capture the Junior Orange Bowl Classic girls championship.
The No. 2 ranked team in Oklahoma appeared headed for its first loss when, with her team leading 59-57 and 10 seconds left in the first overtime, Paul VI guard Isabella Perkins made the first of two free throws but missed the second.
Putnam’s MeKayla Furman then swished an NBA-size three pointer with two seconds left to send the game to a second overtime. Furman wasn’t done with the heroics.
With her team down 64-62 and a minute left in the second OT, she dropped another long three pointer to put the Patriots in front. A few seconds later she stole a pass at midcourt and hit a driving layup to put Putnam up by three to virtually seal the win.
Putnam freshman Brooklyn Fisher led all scorers in the game with 20 points while pulling down six rebounds and was named the tournament’s outstanding player.
▪ Norland 45, Miami High 38: Miami High and Norland had visions of meeting up in the tournament championship game on Saturday night. But losses in the opening quarterfinal round on Thursday saddled them both in the consolation bracket. Thus when the two squared off early Saturday afternoon, all that was at stake was a fifth place finish.
But that didn’t make it any less important as the two teams battled it out like it was a GMAC title game and it was Norland that came up with more big shots down the stretch as the Vikings pulled out the win.
Trailing the entire first half and by five early in the third quarter, Miami High battled back to tie the game at 24 before Norland went on a 9-0 run to open up a 33-24 lead and coasted from there.
“This may have only been for fifth place but there are no championship rings given out in December so it’s all about preparing our girls for bigger hurdles ahead in February and playing this kind of tournament and teams like Miami High is what prepares you for that,” said Norland head coach Carla Harris who has just two seniors on her roster, neither of whom are starters. “We’re very young and getting experience against good teams is important. Win or lose, every game like this gets you better for later on down the road.”
Harris, who led her program to back-to-back state titles in 2009-10, watched her team turn in a balanced attack as three different players scored double figures.
Jayiah Harris-Smith, Dymond Rolle and Veonce Powell led the way with 12, 11 and 10 points respectively as the Vikings, who also have quality wins over Blanche Ely and Lourdes, improved to 10-4.
Shekinah Rachel was the top producer for Miami High (9-4) as she led the way in both points and rebounds with 11 each.
▪ Gulliver Prep. 62, Ferguson 32: After both teams dropped their first two games of the tournament, Gulliver, led by Kaitlyn Sanders, managed to come away with one win and send Ferguson home winless in the 7th place game.
Sanders led all scorers with 20 points going 6-for-10 from the floor and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line as the Raiders (11-2) pulled away from a 25-20 halftime lead in the second half. Aaliyah Adala led the way for Ferguson (8-6) with 16 points.
▪ Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy 76, Tallahassee Florida High 45: The defending 5A state champion Thunderwolves (13-1) were ahead by double digits early in the game and never looked back enroute to the lopsided win in the third place game. FAU commit Alexa Zaph led all scorers with 22 points including five three pointers.
▪ South Miami 63, Palmetto 52: In what could’ve easily been a preview of a regional playoff game in a few months, Toru Dean turned in a big performance to lead the Cobras over the Panthers in the third place game.
Dean, a Barry University commit, lit up the nets scoring 25 of his team’s 33 first half points and finished with 34. South Miami (10-4) enjoyed a big 47-30 lead midway through the third before Palmetto (10-3) put on a 20-7 run to cut the deficit to four with 3:31 left.
▪ Miami Schoolhouse Prep. 66, Pembroke Pines Charter 61: Schoolhouse trailed by three at halftime but then outscored Pines Charter 31-14 over the next quarter and a half to open up a 14-point lead before staving off a late PC run to win the fifth place game.
Shedrice Pierre and Jose Luis Benitez led Schoolhouse (3-6) with 18 and 16 points, respectively while Ange Dibwa pulled down a dozen boards. Amarachi Ujabor and Nick Bailey led the way for Pines with 15 points each.
▪ Wildwood 57, Tallahassee Florida High 52: Wildwood, the defending 1A state champions, nearly squandered a 26-12 halftime lead as FSU pulled to within two in the fourth quarter but managed to hang on in the seventh place game.