A year removed from a case of stage fright and a blowout loss in its state final-four debut, Plantation American Heritage’s boys’ basketball team looked at home under The Lakeland Center lights Friday morning.
Unleashing a “Showtime”-style fast break — led by Justin Massey’s game-high 19 points — the Patriots pulled away after a 20-12 first-quarter lead and dispatched Palatka 68-49 in the Class 5A state semifinals.
Heritage’s superior ball movement, with as many as five players touching the ball on one possession, helped the Patriots overwhelm the Panthers with their transition game.
“We work on our fast break like crazy,” Heritage second-year coach Charles Stephenson said. “We like to think we are a fast-break, get-out team. Get in open space, get our athletes in open space and let them go to work. That certainly happened this morning.”
The Patriots will face top-ranked Tampa Jesuit (30-1) in the championship game at 10 a.m. Saturday.
A superior size advantage in 6-10 Drake LaMont, 6-5 Kobe Eubanks, 6-4 Justin Massey, 6-4 Jason Massey and reserve 6-7 forward Lucas McCormick helped the Patriots outrebound the Panthers 47-34 and form an imposing matchup zone that held Palatka to 29.7 percent shooting.
LaMont had 12 points and 11 rebounds, Jason Massey had eight points and nine rebounds, Eubanks had 12 points and eight rebounds and Josh Borders added 11 points.
Heritage built a 52-40 lead at the end of the third quarter and then put the game out of reach by holding Palatka scoreless for 6 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter.
The runaway victory was a dramatic turnaround from the 2012 state semifinals when Lake Wales blitzed the Patriots and their starting five of two freshmen and three sophomores 75-44.
“Last year I think it was more of, we were happy just to be here,” LaMont said. “Happy to say we made it to Lakeland. Now, one year later to come back here and say that, all right we’re here, but it’s not a big deal anymore. We want to be here. We are supposed to be here. Now it’s much more than that.”
The transfer of the Massey twins from North Broward Prep has helped fill a huge void left by the season-ending injury to standout point guard Keyshawn Evans, who sat on the bench in street clothes.
Justin Massey finished 4 of 7 from three-point range and helped the Patriots pull away with eight points in the second quarter.
AH (24-6): Eubanks 12, Jason Massey 8, LaMont 12, Justin Massey 19, Borders 11, Mullings 2, McCormick 4. Palatka (28-5): Chandler 8, McCoy 3, T. Brown 10, D. Smith 4, Hightower 3, Evans 3, Wilson 2. Young 6. Half: AH 40-29. Three-pointers: Chandler 1, D. Smith 1, Hightower 1, Young 1, Justin Massey 4, Borders 1. Rebounds: LaMont 11, Jason Massey 9, Eubanks 8. Assists: Jason Massey 4. Steals: Jason Massey 3.