The best basketball season in Sandalwood history came to an end on Saturday night, one step short of the state semifinals.
Visiting Orlando Evans led wire-to-wire and knocked off the cold-shooting Saints 67-41 in the Region 1-8A final on Saturday night. Sandalwood (26-3) finished with the deepest run in school history, undone by an off-night from the floor and problems underneath the basket.
Photos: Evans at Sandalwood
“We were trying to make a name for Sandalwood,” said senior guard Eric Banks. “They came out fast on us. We tried to get back in, it just didn’t work.”
The Trojans (23-7) used their major size advantage to cause all sorts of problems for a smallish Sandalwood lineup. That forced the Saints to lob passes high and long and stay clear of the paint. It didn’t help that the typically spot-on Sandalwood shooters had an uncharacteristically off-night from beyond the arc.
“Sometimes a good defense can take you right out of your offense and that’s what happened tonight,” Saints coach Rocky Cusack said. “We’ve lived by the 3 [pointer] all year. We just missed a lot of shots.”
The shots didn’t fall with any frequency until the opening minutes of the second half. Eric Banks, Markus Labostrie and Zach Turner opened the third quarter with three consecutive 3-pointers, cutting Evans’ lead to 35-28, the closest Sandalwood had been since the first quarter.
Just as quickly as the Saints closed the gap, the Trojans erased it, pounding the inside with 6-foot-8 center Kerry Blackshear and forcing giveaways on three trips down the court. At one point 3 for 3 from the field, Sandalwood was just 3 for 17 the rest of the way.
The Saints were just 13 of 44 shooting.
Damon Williams and Dalvin Storey had 12 points apiece and led the White Commanders to their first state semifinals with a 46-44 win over Pensacola in the regional final.
The Commanders (25-4) erased a halftime deficit with a strong second half, taking a 33-31 lead going into the fourth quarter and then hanging on to oust the host Tigers. White will face Miami Norland in the state semifinals in Lakeland on Friday. Kendall McNeil added 11 for the Commanders.
Bishop Kenny’s quest for back-to-back state semifinals ended with a 63-52 loss to Springfield Rutherford on Saturday night. The Crusaders (20-9) came back from a 32-16 halftime deficit to get within 55-50 with less than a minute to play. But the Rams pulled away.