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Boys Basketball

Boys basketball region quarterfinal preview

Bob Putnam

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All games start at 7 unless noted

Class 7A

Durant (22-5) at Alonso (20-5) 

This is a rematch from a regular season game the Ravens won 66-57. Alonso rebounded from a two-game losing streak at the end of the regular season to win the Class 7A, District 7 tournament. The Cougars had their 10-game win snapped with a loss to Sarasota Riverview in the 7A-8 tournament final. 

Wharton (21-5) at Sarasota Riverview (20-6)

The Wildcats have a difficult matchup against the Rams, who are undefeated (6-0) against Hillsborough County teams this season.

Class 6A

Largo (11-10) at East Lake (24-1)

The Eagles, ranked No. 1 in 6A and 10th overall in the state by MaxPreps, are trying to reach the state semifinals for the second straight season. The first step is tonight when they take on Largo, a team East Lake beat by 22 points last month. 

Wiregrass Ranch (15-7) at St. Petersburg (17-5)

The Green Devils rebounded from a 1-6 stretch at the end of the regular season to win the 6A, District 10 title. The Bulls, meanwhile, went 9-2 down the stretch to make the playoffs as the 6A-9 runnerup. 

Bloomingdale (12-4) at Lakeland Kathleen (11-9)

After a 2-5 start, the Bulls turned things around to make the playoffs as the 6A-8 runnerup. They have done it with defense, holding each of their last five opponents to 45 points or less. 

Plant City (16-6) at Hillsborough (11-11)

This is a rematch from a game two weeks ago the Raiders won 71-69. In that regular season meeting, Plant City had a 12-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Terriers made a furious rally, scoring a whopping 37 points in the fourth, but the comeback fell short.  

Class 5A

Boca Ciega (11-8) at Blake (12-4)

Pirates coach Randy Shuman won his 600th game during the 5A-10 tournament. To keep the postseason run going, Boca Ciega has get past the Yellow Jackets, who are on a five-game win streak. 

Jesuit (22-4) at Clearwater (17-2)

The Tornadoes, ranked No. 5 in 5A by MaxPreps, reached the region final last season and are trying to take the next step and get to the final four. The Tigers had to sit their varsity squad during last week’s 5A-9 district tournament. The junior varsity squad played admirably, winning a semifinal game against Sumner before losing to Blake in the final. 

Land O’ Lakes (17-10) at Leesburg (13-4)

The Gators, who had their five-game win streak snapped with a loss to Fivay in the 5A-6 district final, travel to take on the Yellow Jackets, one of their premier programs in the state. 

Orlando Jones (10-13) at Fivay (22-2)

The season of superlatives continues for the Falcons. After recording its best regular season record in school history, Fivay went on to win its first district title at the 5A-6 tournament. And the Falcons have a good shot at extending their postseason debut for another game. 

Class 4A

Cocoa (11-12) at Tampa Catholic (18-6)

The Crusaders had to reload after graduating the bulk of last year’s roster. But the new faces, led by freshman guard Karter Knox, the younger brother of Tampa Catholic Kevin Knox, are playing well. In fact, the young lineup might be able to get the Crusaders back to the state semifinal for the sixth straight season. 

Central (14-12)  at Alachua Santa Fe (16-5), 7

The Bears are 3-1 this month, which helped push their record above .500 and make the playoffs as the 4A-6 runnerup. If the game is close, the Raiders have the edge. Three of their last four wins have been decided by four points or less. 

Wesley Chapel (20-7) at Lake Highland Prep (11-7), 7

The Wildcats have a tough task with a road to take on the Highlanders, who are ranked 10th in 4A and among the top 60 overall in the state by MaxPreps. 

Eustis (9-11) at Nature Coast (18-9), 7

After some mid-season struggles, the Sharks put it together at the right time last week. Nature Coast beat Hudson and Wesley Chapel at the 4A-6 tournament to win their eight district title in school history. That gives the Sharks some much-needed momentum heading into tonight’s region quarterfinals. 

Class 3A

St. Petersburg Catholic (17-8) at Carrollwood Day (17-4)

The Patriots, led by two-sport star Mike Trigg, know they could end up facing Bishop McLaughlin in the region semifinals. First, Carrollwood Day has to get past the Barons, who had a nine-game streak snapped with a loss to Calvary Christian in the 3A-6 district final. 

Bishop McLaughlin (18-6) at Calvary Christian (15-12) 

This matchup features a pair of stellar guards in the Warriors’ Tristan Gross (19 points per game) and the Hurricanes’ Emanuel Sharp (23.8 points per game).  

Class 2A

Brandon Academy (8-10) at Academy at the Lakes (13-6)

Don’t let the record fool you. Though the Scorpions are 8-10, they have played a considerably tough schedule. That helped them make the playoffs for the first time. To make this postseason trip last, Brandon Academy will have to find a way to stop Jalen Brown, who is averaging 24.7 points per game. 

Zephyrhills Christian (9-11) at Cambridge Christian (14-5) 

The Lancers have won seven of their last eight heading into the playoffs. A big reason for their success is the play of their offense, which has put up 70 or more points in the last four wins. 

Southwest Florida Christian (14-11) at Bayshore Christian (10-7)

The Faith Warriors’ quest to make their second straight state semifinal appearance starts tonight. CJ Crews has been the leader. The senior is averaging 22 points and nine rebounds in his last three games.  

Canterbury (13-11) at Naples First Baptist (19-2)

The Crusaders will rely on Percy Pederson III (21.7 points per game) to knock off the Lions, who are ranked No. 6 in 2A by MaxPreps. 

Boys Basketball

Sharp’s shooting leads to Bishop McLaughlin to 3A state final

Bob Putnam

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Bishop McLaughlin’s burgeoning athletic program has already done some impressive things this school year. In the fall, the volleyball team reached the state semifinals and the football program played for a state title as an independent. 

On Wednesday, it was the boys basketball that had the spotlight. 

The Hurricanes, who won just two games last season, made a memorable playoff debut by reaching the state semifinals for the first time. 

When it came to postseason experience, Bishop McLaughlin was at a serious disadvantage in its matchup with Jacksonville Andrew Jackson. 

The Tigers were in the semifinals for the third straight season and were motivated to get to the championship game after losing in the finals the past two seasons. They had 10 returning players accustomed to being on basketball’s biggest stage. 

Still, the Hurricanes had something better.

They had Emanuel Sharp.

Sharp, the Class 5A state player of the year when he was at Blake last season, was among several high-profile transfers who made Bishop McLaughlin’s turnaround possible. 

Sharp took those honors because of ability to pile on the points. 

And that is just what the junior guard in the semifinals, finishing with 39 points to lead the Hurricanes to a 79-71 victory. Bishop McLaughlin will play the Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian-Miami Country Day winner in Friday’s 3A title game

And that is just what the junior guard in the semifinals, finishing with 39 points to lead the Hurricanes to a 77-71 victory. Bishop McLaughlin will play the Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian-Miami Country Day winner in Friday’s 3A title game.

From the start, Sharp dominated. He threw down emphatic dunks. He stepped back and hit NBA-range 3-pointers. He knocked down free throws.

More importantly, he rarely missed, an impressive feat for someone making his state semifinal debut. 

The vastness of Lakeland’s RP Funding Center, site of the tournament, can create problems with depth perception on long-range shots. Typically, area teams that make it there schedule a practice at USF or Eckerd College to get used to playing in a bigger arena.

Trouble was, no team was able to practice elsewhere because of the pandemic. 

That did not faze Sharp. 

He missed just two shots in the first half, going 7-of-9 in field goals and hitting all 12 of his free throw attempts. His 28 points led all scorers and helped the Hurricanes go into the half with a 38-23 lead.

Sharp’s shooting touch cooled off. He made just one of his six field goal attempts in the second half. But his first half performance — and his ability to hit some clutch free throws (21-of-22 overall from the line) — was more than enough to lead the Hurricanes into the final. 

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Boys Basketball

Boys basketball: Class 3A state semifinal preview

Bob Putnam

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Boys basketball state semifinals

All games at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.  Admission is $10 in advance, $13 on the day of the event. Parking is $10.

Class 3A

Bishop McLaughlin (21-6) vs. Jacksonville Andrew Jackson (19-6), 2

How they got here: Bishop McLaughlin d. Calvary Christian 62-48, d. Carrollwood Day 84-66, d. Fort Myers Canterbury 47-42. Andrew Jackson d. Florida State University 82-65, d. Jacksonville Bishop Snyder 58-37, d. Winter Park Trinity Prep 69-47. 

Top players: Bishop McLaughlin: G Emanuel Sharp, Jr. (23.6 points, 4.2 assists, 1.8 steals per game); F/G Dillon Mitchell, Jr.(18.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 blocks per game); F/G Anthony Davis Jr., Jr. (12.1 points, 4.3 rebounds per game). Andrew Jackson: F/G Bryce Turner, Sr. (9.1 points, 5.6 rebounds per game); C Stephon Payne, Jr. (6.6 points, 6.0 rebounds per game); F Davin Daniels, Sr. (6.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists per game). 

Outlook: Bishop McLaughlin, which won two games last season, made its playoff debut last with its first state semifinal appearance. The Hurricanes did while playing all three regional games on the road. Emanuel Sharp, the Class 5A state player of the year at Blake last season, arrived this year and has been the go-to guy-averaging a team-high 23.6 points per game. Dillon Mitchell, a four-star recruit, came from Sickles and has been an inside force for Bishop McLaughlin. The advantage in experience goes to Andrew Jackson, which is making its third straight state semifinal appearance. The Tigers are motivated, especially after losing in the state title game the past two seasons. It is a veteran team with 10 returning players from last year’s squad. 

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Boys Basketball

The PTP boys basketball players of the week

Bob Putnam

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The fans’ pick

G Juan Arias, Sr., Brandon Academy

Brandon Academy’s nascent boys basketball program has made significant strides. After going winless in an abbreviated varsity schedule during the 2017-18 season, the Scorpions steadily improved, culminating with their first playoff appearance this year. 

Juan Arias was the catalyst for that postseason push. The veteran averaged 11.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Last month, he set the school record for points in a game with 36. 

Two weeks ago, he had 16 points and 12 rebounds to lead Brandon Academy to its first playoff win against Academy at the Lakes. 

Fans were impressed. Arias received more than 46 percent of the vote (703) to beat out Wiregrass Ranch’s Joshua Wilson, who had 35 percent (503 votes).

The PTP picks

G Joshua Martin, Jr., Wiregrass Ranch: Led the Bulls with 29 points in a win over St. Petersburg, the first playoff victory for Wiregrass Ranch in a decade. 

F Joe Pesansky, Sr., Jesuit: The two-sport star dominated down low, finishing with 29 points and seven rebounds to lead the Tigers’ impressive comeback against Clearwater.

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