Dominick Otteni waited on Bradenton Christian’s bench as the Panthers’ hopes to repeat as Smoothie King Classic champions withered during the first round of the 2016 tournament. Plagued by foul trouble, the guard could only watch while Southeast maintained its steady lead through most of the fourth quarter and went to the free-throw line with a chance to push its edge to seven.
Panthers head coach Scott Townsend turned to his left and with a quick flick of his hand send Otteni racing toward the scorers’ table. He paused for only a beat to get checked in, then sprinted on to the floor.
The Seminoles’ second free throw went awry and Otteni pushed the ball up the floor until he reached the top of the key, where a screen from Brett Gerber awaited him. He turned on the jets and swooped into the paint for the layup, the first of 16 he’d score during the next nine minutes of action to send BCS to a thrilling 80-75 overtime win in the final game of the first day at the Smoothie King — a rematch of last year’s title game.
“He’s our leader. He’s our senior leader,” Townsend said. “He struggled early, but I knew that it would come around. That’s what seniors are supposed to do. Leadership. It’s what they’re supposed to do. He stepped up big and he took over when he needed to.”
Otteni finished with 25 points to lead Bradenton Christian. He scored or assisted on all of the Panthers’ last seven baskets, including the game-tying 3-pointer by shooting guard Colton Popp with three seconds left. During overtime, Otteni sank a 3-pointer to give BCS a lead it would never relinquish, then iced the game with a breakaway layup as time expired.
Bradenton Christian (6-2) will meet Miami LaSalle in the semifinals Wednesday at 8 p.m. Southeast (2-10) will face rival Bayshore in a consolation game at 2 p.m.
It was a remarkable turnaround for Otteni after a disastrous start. The senior missed his first five shots and Bradenton Christian trailed by as much as 15 during the first half. When the deficit grew to 24-10 midway through the second quarter, Townsend pulled his entire starting lineup off the floor.
“We weren’t playing as a team,” Townsend said. “We were struggling, so I was trying to make a point. Obviously, it helped because they came back in and played how we need to play.”
Even when the starters returned and the Panthers’ offense steadied, they struggled to knot the score with the Seminoles. Cedric Brooks Jr. kept BCS at bay, finishing with a game-high 35 points and tying a tournament record with six 3-pointers. When Bradenton Christian finally tied the game at 63-63, he nearly put the Panthers out of reach again.
The Noles guard drew a foul, which goaded BCS shooting guard AJ Schewe, who finished with 20 before fouling out, into a technical foul. Brooks hit all four free throws and then drilled a 3 from the corner to stretch the Noles’ lead back to seven with 1:09 remaining.
But Bradenton Christian closed with its best offensive stretch of the game. On three straight possessions, Otteni completed an and-one, then assisted back-to-back 3s to Popp to force the extra period.
“I knew we weren’t out of it. I’ve been in this spot, this position a lot and I just wanted to keep my guys focused, say, ‘Hey, we’re not out of it. Just keep fighting and good things will happen,’” Townsend said. “And that’s what happened.”
Miami LaSalle 73, Bayshore 70: The Bruins fouled LaSalle’s Julian Pita on a half-court shot attempt with less than a second remaining and the Royals stunned Bayshore in the quarterfinals of the Smoothie King Classic.
The Bruins (4-8) took a 70-68 lead on a wild play of their own. Guard Ogbonna Baker stripped the ball away from LaSalle in the Royals’ backcourt after center Christopher Harris missed a go-ahead free throw attempt and drew a foul of his own. Baker, who finished with a game-high 21 points, knocked down both free throws to give the Bruins the lead with 1.4 seconds remaining.
LaSalle inbounded the ball to Pita, who lined up a prayer and wing Denny Dessin was whistled for a foul as Pita, who finished with 14, heaved the ball toward the basket across the gym. Head coach Wilmore Fowler argued for long enough to draw a technical foul and the Royals sank five straight free throws to win the game.
The improbable win sends LaSalle into the Smoothie King semifinals. Bayshore will face Southeast.
Cape Coral 65, Braden River 57: The Seahawks opened the boys tournament with an upset, knocking off the Pirates behind Brandon Alcide and Harwin Francois. Alcide and Francois finished with 18 and 17, respectively, to lead Cape Coral past Braden River (9-2) on the opening day of the tournament for the second straight year.
The Pirates finished with only two players in double figures, led by guard Deoni Cason’s 20. Curtis Cobb added 10 for Braden River.
The Seahawks advance to the semifinals with the win and will face Kentucky’s Gallatin County at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The Pirates will once again play in the first boys game of the day against Sarasota at 11 a.m.
Gallatin County (Ky.) 64, Sarasota 43: Gallatin traveled down from Warsaw, Ky., for the Smoothie King Classic and opened the tournament with a rout of the Sailors. The Wildcats’ Mason Wilson dropped 30 on Sarasota and tied a tournament record with six 3-pointers.
Gallatin will meet Cape Coral in the semifinals. The Sailors slide into the consolation bracket and will face Braden River.