Pompano Beach Blanche Ely had moments this season uncharacteristic of the kind of basketball it has played over the past decade.
No one could tell the difference by the way the Tigers played in Saturday’s Class 7A state championship game.
A vintage Ely first half propelled the Tigers to an 84-70 win over St. Petersburg at The Lakeland Center and their second consecutive state championship, the sixth overall for the school and fourth in the past five years, and fifth since 2007.
“It was all a setup,” Ely coach Melvin Randall joked. “We took all the losses we could so we could come in the back door and do this again.
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“Seriously, though, this team could have lied down, but they worked extremely hard and as a result we’re state champions. This is sweeter. This is sweeter even than 28-0.”
Ely’s final record of 20-13 this season followed early struggles that were anything but humorous to Randall, the Tigers’ legendary coach who won his seventh state championship as coach, giving him more than any other coach in the history of the state.
Ely’s sixth state title matches rival Dillard’s sixth, which it won just two hours earlier Saturday, for the most by a Broward County school. The two schools are tied for fifth place in state history.
Randall’s seventh put him in a class by himself.
Randall, who won his first two at Deerfield Beach (1997, ’99) and has now guided Ely to five championships, surpassed his friend Lawton Williams III, the coach at Miami Norland, and Dillard’s Darryl Burrows, who each have six state titles as of Saturday.
Randall, who has 555 career coaching wins, had 12 new faces on his team’s roster after returning only three from last year’s 28-0 state-championship squad.
Injuries to key players such as junior guard Geremy Taylor, senior forward Trevor Goodrum Jr. and senior guard Mark Houston compounded the problems caused by inexperience and led to a 12-11 record late in the season following a four-game losing streak that was a first for Randall during his distinguished 24 seasons of coaching.
Once his full lineup was intact, Ely finished the season winning eight of its final 10 games, losing only the BCAA Big 8 final to Class 6A state champion Dillard and its district final to St. Thomas Aquinas.
“These gentlemen stayed the course even though they took a bit of a beating early in the season,” Randall said. “I knew we were young and I know we can schedule a 20-win season any year, but I put together a schedule that would benefit this team. We knew we would be here at the end.”
All three of those players played a part in Ely jumping all over St. Petersburg (27-7) during the first half as the Tigers stormed to a 31-12 lead with 3:13 remaining in the second quarter.
The stretch was vintage Ely with its swarming defense causing turnovers and players hitting five three-pointers.
Taylor posted a triple-double, finishing with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Goodrum had 12 points, three steals and three rebounds, and Houston had 10 points.
But it took a collective effort for Ely to return to the top as it had six players overall score in double figures, and especially with Houston and Goodrum fouling out of the game late.
“This wasn’t really nerve-racking because I knew my brothers would finish the job,” Houston said. “This season everybody doubted us and we proved them wrong.”
Junior forward William Maloney finished with a game-high 20 points and was Ely’s closer as it mostly traded scores with the Green Devils during a high-scoring fourth quarter. Sophomore guard Michael Forrest also had 12 points and freshman power forward Joshua Scott had 11 points.
But as Ely repeatedly broke St. Petersburg’s press, it was Maloney finishing every possession with layup after layup.
Maloney scored Ely’s last 14 points from the field.
“I made a promise to those seniors that I would send them off with a ring,” Maloney said. “We did it.”
ELY (20-13): Maloney 20, Taylor 12, Forrest 12, Goodrum Jr. 12, Scott 11, Houston 10, Stampley 7. SP (27-7): Banks 18, Smith 13, Ford 12, Bianco 11, Reid 10, Miller 2, Saddler 2, Anderson 2. Half: ELY 36-24. 3 pointers: Houston (2), Goodrum Jr. (2), Banks (2), Forrest, Smith, Bianco. Fouled out: Houston, Goodrum Jr., Ford. Rebounds: Taylor 11. Assists: Taylor 10. Steals: Forrest 3, Goodrum Jr. 3.