Weston Sagemont will leave others to debate where it ranks among Florida’s boys’ basketball royalty.
At the very least, Sagemont (33-0) thrust itself into the “best ever” conversation by capping a rare undefeated season with a 79-48 victory over Tampa Prep in the Class 3A state final Wednesday at the Lakeland Center.
Sagemont, ranked No. 22 nationally by PrepNation, moved into elite company by becoming the first Florida boys’ team since Tallahassee Rickards in 2011 to go wire-to-wire without a loss and the first ever from Broward County to do it.
“Our kids deserve the state championship that they just earned,” said Sagemont coach Adam Ross. “I’m just thrilled for all these guys. Our seniors are going to go off knowing nobody else in our county has accomplished which is an undefeated season, finishing off with a state championship.”
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As the final seconds wound down Sagemont standout 6-4 guard Prince Ali, the tournament MVP, threw the ball toward the George Jenkins Arena rafters and jumped into the air to chest bump teammate Lance Crawford.
Ross, who won his second state title with the Lions, then joined his assistants and players for a group hug as chants of “undefeated, undefeated” rose from the stands.
For Ali, a Connecticut recruit, winning his first state title was the ultimate reward for buying into a lesser scoring role on a team full of stars.
“This brings a lot together for me,” Ali said. “It solidifies what I have been doing lately. The one missing piece was the state championship. This right now is my greatest accomplishment, other than me committing to UConn.”
Ali finished with a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds. Jordan Cooper had 15 points and Crawford, the Lions’ catalyst, had 14 points and nine assists. G.G. Goloman added 14 points and four blocks.
But any questions about a possible letdown for the Lions after their shocking 78-59 victory over Class 3A No. 1 Jacksonville Providence (USA Today No. 27 nationally) in the semifinals Tuesday, was answered emphatically.
Ali followed up a bank shot over 6-10 center Juwan Durham with a three-pointer, to alone outscore the Terrapins 12-8 early on.
Ali’s spurt helped Sagemont build a 27-8 lead with 1:03 left in the first quarter, and Cooper beat the second quarter buzzer to push the lead to 51-19 heading into halftime.
At that point the only question was when the Lions would attain the 35-point lead in the second half to start a running clock. Crawford provided the answer when his three-pointer with 5:53 left in the third quarter, which extended the lead to 59-23.
It was sweet redemption for Cooper and Kirby (eight points), seniors who lost to Tampa Prep in the 2012 state championship game.
Meanwhile, Crawford added his second state championship after helping Pine Crest upset Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the 2012 Class 4A state title game.
“It’s just so special, I’m just living in the moment right now,” Crawford said. “I can’t pick one I’m more excited about. It’s like picking between kids. It just means the world to me to be blessed I’m in this position right now."
To its credit, a vocal Tampa Prep student section stood in support of its team throughout the lopsided defeat, holding out hope for a comeback that was not going to happen against a Sagemont team that was on a mission.
Sagemont took its place in history by reloading after a regional semifinal loss to rival Coral Springs Christian last season.
The Lions surrounded holdovers Kirby and Cooper with high-profile transfers Ali, Crawford and Goloman.
Still, some questioned whether all that talent could co-exist. Crawford took the reigns immediately and helped bring all the pieces together.
“Me and Joe being here for so long, we won state our first year here and was expecting to be back every year since,” Cooper said. “After a couple losses it didn’t happen. We welcomed the new guys. Once they got in, they pushed us and we pushed them. We became a better team.”
Class 3A State Championship
Sagemont 79, Tampa Prep 48: TP (27-4): Barker 2, Fridella 9, Durham 19, Goulbourne 10, Ward 8. Sag (33-0): Ali 20, Kirby 8, Crawford 14, Cooper 15, Goloman 14, Jurko 2, R. Williams 2, Serpa 2, Arias 2. Half: Sag 51-19. Three-pointers: Fridella 1, Goulbourne 1, Ward 1, Kirby 1, Crawford 4, Cooper 1, Ali 2, Arias 1. Rebounds: Ali 10. Steals: Kirby 3. Assists: Crawford 9.