LAKELAND – South Miami’s boys’ basketball team looked for three quarters like it would at least earn another chance to play for a state championship.
But a flurry of costly turnovers in the closing minutes of Friday night’s Class 8A state semifinal led to another disappointing finish for the Cobras at the state final four.
South Miami relinquished a nine-point lead, outscored 20-7 over the final quarter and a half in a 51-48 loss to Orlando Evans at The Lakeland Center.
The Cobras (24-5), who were attempting to advance to the state championship game for the second consecutive season and fourth time ever, committed five turnovers down the stretch as Evans (27-7) advanced to face Winter Park in Saturday’s Class 8A final at 8:30 p.m. and left South Miami still chasing that elusive state title.
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"We didn’t box out at all and they kept getting rebounds and outscored us," South Miami forward Joseph Lopez said. "We didn’t play good enough defense at the end."
The painful part was that Lopez and the rest of the Cobras frontcourt including backup forward Latravian Glover more than held its own for nearly three quarters against Evans’ sizeable post players that were led by 6-9 junior Kerry Blackshear.
"It wasn’t as difficult, but we just didn’t box out hard enough," Glover said.
Lopez finished with 10 points and eight rebounds and Glover finished with six points and blocked two shots.
South Miami limited Blackshear to 3 of 15 shooting and 10 points.
But as Evans turned up its full-court pressure in the fourth quarter, it forced mistakes and 6-6 forward JaCarl Owens often converted layups in transition. Blackshear’s key put back score gave Evans the lead for good at 47-45 with 1:30 remaining.
Blackshear and Malik Smith each drew fouls after South Miami committed two more turnovers and later missed two desperation three-pointers as Evans guards played tight defense on the perimeter.
"Turnovers cost us at the end," South Miami coach Robert Doctor said. "We were trying to stall the game a bit, but [Evans] fought back into it. We didn’t execute at the end."
Senior guard Marquise Clark sparked South Miami early on scoring eight of his game-high 20 points in the first quarter. Clark also went 10 for 10 from the free throw line. Trayvon Barney finished with nine points as well as the Cobras led for nearly the entire game.
Benly Olizia’s layup with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter gave Evans its first lead since a 7-6 lead midway through the first quarter.
"We made about five or six crucial turnovers down the stretch and it cost us the game," Clark said. "We had a pretty good season. It just hurts."
SM (24-5): Barney 9, Glover 6, Lopez 10, Clark 20, Davis 3. EV (27-7): Olizia 9, Williamson 9, Blackshear 10, Owens 14, James 8, Smith 1. Half: SM 30-24. Fouled out: Brown, Jr. Three-pointers: Barney, Clark 2, Davis, Olizia, Owens. Rebounds: Blackshear 9. Assists: Lopez 4. Steals: Williamson 5.