A little less than 30 minutes before University tipped off against The Villages Charter for a Class 5A boys’ basketball semifinal Wednesday in Lakeland, Vernon Carey hobbled out from behind the curtain which covers up most of the RP Funding Center’s tunnel. A crutch sat beneath each of his armpits. A walking boot enclosed his right foot.
Carey, who has signed a National Letter of Intent with the Duke Blue Devils, has been the driving force for the Sharks the last two seasons, guiding them to their first state championship last season and a perennial spot in the national rankings, but told the Miami Herald an ankle injury suffered Friday in the Class 5A-Region 4 championship will hold him out for two or three weeks. University will have to repeat without it’s McDonald’s All-American forward.
“We have to open the floor a little bit more,” coach Jim Carr said at his postgame press conference, “but we’re really deep and that’s a hard thing with a high school team. We’ve got a lot of guys that don’t play a lot of minutes that would be starters on a lot of teams and those guys just stayed the course.”
At least Wednesday, it didn’t matter. The Sharks staged an offensive clinic in the 5A semifinals, blowing out the Buffalo for a 91-53 win at George W. Jenkins Arena. University shot 81.3 percent in the first quarter, 74.2 percent in the first half and 68.3 percent in the game. With Carey sidelined, the Sharks could simply hand the keys of their offense to another five-star prospect and Scottie Barnes rose to the challenge.
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The No. 4 overall prospect in the 247Sports.com composite rankings for the Class of 2020, Barnes played center on defense and often served as the primary ballhandler on offense. The five-star small forward finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Roger McFarlane, a three-star shooting guard in the 2020 class, added another 25 points and nine rebounds for University (26-4) in the blowout win.
The Sharks will try to bring their second straight title home to Davie in the 5A championship Thursday at 4:30 p.m. against Jacksonville Andrew Jackson, which cruised to a 69-55 win against Tampa Catholic in the earlier 5A semifinal Wednesday.
The No. 12 team in MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25 rankings, University played a back-and-forth first few minutes against The Villages. Carey’s injury robbed Jenkins Arena of a McDonald’s All-American showdown, but Tre Mann held up his end of the bargain. The 5-star point guard, who has signed with the Florida Gators, scored 17, including nine in the opening period. Eventually, the Sharks’ depth was too much. With 1:21 left in the first quarter, Barnes scored inside to push University’s lead to 26-15. The Buffalo (23-8) never cut lead back down to single digits, and the Sharks played the final minute and a half with a running clock.
University outscored The Villages, 76-18, on points in the paint. The Sharks only settled for eight three-pointers. Without its five-star center, University spread the floor, broke the Buffalo’s press and scored at the rim at will.
“I just played it like a regular game,” Barnes said at the postgame press conference. “I knew coming into the game he wasn’t playing, so we just all needed to step up and just play our game, just play hard and focus on the game plan.”
Carr wasn’t himself willing to totally rule out Carey for Thursday. The Sharks have a little less than 24 hours to prepare for Andrew Jackson (25-6) and most of the time will be spent trying to get Carey on the court for one last championship game.
“He’s still a game-day decision. We’ll still work him,” Carr said. “He’s going to have the coldest ankle in America in about five minutes.