For the second night in a row at the Smoothie King Classic, Bradenton Christian was pushed onto its heels.
A 10-point deficit against Miami LaSalle during the first half left the Panthers in a hole through most of the first three quarters, leaving the Panthers in danger of a semifinal loss at the Bradenton Christian School gymnasium.
Through 24 minutes, BCS led for less than two. But only seconds into the fourth quarter, Bradenton Christian got over the hump. A deep inbound pass found AJ Schewe in the post, and, when the defense collapsed, the shooting guard found Dayton Modderman for a go-ahead jumper. It was the burst the Panthers’ finally needed to steal an 81-74 win against LaSalle in Bradenton and reach the Smoothie King final for the third straight year.
“This team’s starting to grow up in front of me,” head coach Scott Townsend said. “We struggled early, especially in the season, and these guys are starting to mature and grow up. And we’re learning how to win. Keep it close and then just grind it out in the end, and get the lead and hold it.”
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Schewe finished with a team-high 20 points, but guards Dominick Otteni and Kevin Etienne were the triggers to the offense. The teammates lifted Bradenton Christian (7-2) down the stretch. Otteni scored 17 and led the team with seven assists. Etienne scored 16, dished out six assists and grabbed six rebounds.
The Panthers’ rally truly began with Etienne. Back-to-back 3-pointers just before halftime by shooting guard Dylan Controne sliced the Royal Lions’ lead to four, 35-31. On the first possession of the third quarter, Etienne found himself inbounding on the baseline. When the Lions’ center turned around, the point guard threw the ball off his back and grabbed it to lay the ball in and cut the LaSalle’s lead to two points for the first time in nearly five minutes.
About six minutes later, he delivered another highlight-worthy play. The junior jumped a lazy pass around the perimeter and shot into the floor, a step ahead of the only nearby defender. His one-handed dunk cut the Lions’ lead to one, 49-48.
“Kevin’s starting to grow up,” Townsend said. “If we get Kevin to buy in to what we want him to do he can be a phenomenal player.”
With just more than four minutes left, another steal by Etienne led to a layup and gave BCS the lead for good.
On Thursday at 8 p.m., the rebuilding Panthers will have a chance to repeat as champions. Bradenton Christian will meet Cape Coral in the title game at 8 p.m. La Salle (6-5) will have to settle for a shot at third place against Gallatin County from Warsaw, Ky., at 6 p.m.
Cape Coral 55, Gallatin County (Ky.) 45: The Seahawks took an early lead against Gallatin (Warsaw, Ky.), and held on to reach the championship game. Senior Mason Wilson, who scored 30 for the Wildcats in a quarterfinal win against Sarasota, led all scorers with 15, but Cape Coral had three players in double figures. Point guard Brandon Alcide and Harwin Francois each scored 12, and James Gibson added 10.
Bayshore 59, Southeast 57: Fifteen days after the Bruins beat the Seminoles by nearly 30, Southeast nearly pulled the upset. Nine players scored for the Bruins (5-8), led by center Christopher Harris with 14 and guard Jaylen Pauley with 11.
Bayshore advanced to the fifth-place game. The Bruins will square off against Braden River at 2 p.m.
Southeast (2-11) fell into the seventh-place game despite 16 points from guard Cedric Brooks Jr., who scored a tournament-high 35 points during a quarterfinal loss to Bradenton Christian on Tuesday. The Seminoles will meet Sarasota at 11 a.m. in the first boys game of the day.
Braden River 65, Sarasota 56: The Pirates bounced back from an opening-day loss to Cape Coral with a win against the Sailors.
Guard Deoni Cason led the way for Braden River (10-2) with 19 points and wing forward Jacob Garrett added 13. Sarasota’s Emmanuel Lambright led all scorers with 33.